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SCAQMD Moves To Shut Down Lead Smelter Exide

David Pettit

Posted October 22, 2013 in Curbing Pollution, Environmental Justice, Health and the Environment

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Exide Technologies is a lead-acid battery recycling company in Vernon, California, with a history of air pollution and soil pollution problems.  Exide has been operating with an interim permit to dispose of its waste issued by the California Department of Toxic Substances Control (DTSC) since 1981 – over thirty years – with no environmental review.  It is the only facility in California that DTSC has treated this way.  DTSC’s director, at a recent community meeting in Boyle Heights, had no explanation for why this has happened.  A recent lawsuit against Exide by DTSC ended in full retreat and settlement.

Air emissions from Exide are regulated by the South Coast Air Quality Management District (SCAQMD).  SCAQMD is also responsible for issuing the permit under Title V of the federal Clean Air Act that allows Exide to operate. 

Exide has a sorry history of air quality rule violations, documented here by KPCC’s Molly Peterson.  On October 18, 2013, SCAQMD issued two Notices of Violation to Exide for emitting too much lead from one of its stacks.  SCAQMD's monitoring shows that lead was being emitted at roughly 160 times the legal limit.

Lead is extremely toxic, especially to children.  The U.S. Centers For Disease Control and Prevention explain:  “The adverse health effects of lead exposure in children are well described and include intellectual and behavioral deficits, making lead exposure an important public health problem . . . No safe blood lead level (BLL) in children has been identified.”

Also on October 18, 2013, SCAQMD took one of toughest steps it can:  asking its Hearing Board to shut Exide down until Exide shows that it can operate safely.  It filed an Order for Abatement, which you can read here.  Oddly, the Order is based on air emissions of arsenic, not lead.  It’s not like breathing arsenic is good for you, but the lead monitoring data is more recent and, to me, scarier.

So what happens from here?  Proceedings on an Order for Abatement are covered by SCAQMD rules that you can read here.  Public hearings will occur where members of the public can attend and offer testimony; testimony can also be offered in writing.  When the hearings have concluded, the five-member Hearing Board will decide the issues presented, including the request by SCAQMD that Exide cease and desist from all lead smelting operations until its air pollution systems are upgraded to the satisfaction of the Hearing Board.  If Exide is unhappy with the result, it can go to court and ask to have the Hearing Board’s decision overturned. 

I expect this administrative process to play out quickly, within hearings beginning possibly this December.  Litigation, naturally, will take longer. 

NRDC and our community allies will be playing close attention to this intolerable situation.  Our view is that, given the history of lead and arsenic pollution from Exide, it ought to be shut down unless and until it can prove that it can operate safely.  If the Order for Abatement procedure doesn’t get this done, SCAQMD ought to consider starting procedures to revoke Exide’s Title V permit and shut it down.

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Switchboard is the staff blog of the Natural Resources Defense Council, the nation’s most effective environmental group. For more about our work, including in-depth policy documents, action alerts and ways you can contribute, visit NRDC.org.

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