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Local Battery Recycler Poses Highest Cancer Risk In Southern California

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By Diego Rentería

Pollution, much like love, knows no borders, which is why the City of Los Angeles is exploring legal action against a Vernon battery recycler that released high levels of arsenic emissions and increased the cancer risk in surrounding neighborhoods.

On April 3, the L.A. City Council’s Energy and Environment Committee asked the City Attorney’s Office to explore legal action against Exide. Councilmember José Huizar, whose district includes Boyle Heights, also chairs the Energy and Environment Committee. Huizar is quoted as saying, "They have told us they will take three years to correct this problem. We are asking to see if we could as a city get this to be reduced. That's just simply too long for a severe problem to be corrected."

At the state level, Assembly Speaker John A. Perez, who represents many of the affected residents, asked the Department of Toxic Substances Control to immediately act on Exide’s high levels of toxic arsenic emissions.

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Last month, the South Coast Air Quality Management District found that emissions of chemicals, particularly arsenic, from Exide Technologies' Vernon battery recycling plant had increased the measured maximum cancer risk for workers to 156 per one million and the maximum cancer risk for residents to 22 in one million. AQMD said Exide’s Vernon plant "posed a higher cancer risk to more people than any of more than 450 facilities the agency has regulated in Southern California in the last 25 years."

AQMD found that increased arsenic emissions from Exide is potentially impacting as many as 110,000 residents of Vernon, Maywood, Huntington Park, Commerce, Boyle Heights, and unincorporated East Los Angeles.

California’s AB2588 law requires that facilities that emit toxic air pollutants must notify potentially affected residents if the calculated risk is 10 in one million or more. If the calculated risk surpasses 25 in one million, the transgressing facility must develop a plan to reduce toxic air emissions below the 25 in one million threshold.

Exide’s Vernon facility has a history of citations by the AQMD:

In 2010, EGP reported that between 2007 and 2010, Exide was issued 16 Notices of Violation, resulting in 84 inspections during that period, according to a report by Mohsen Nazemi, AQMD Deputy Executive Officer. In late 2007, early 2008 and early 2009, Exide violated both AQMD and state lead standards, and at one point Exide's Permit was amended to allow only half the production until the company was in compliance, according to the AQMD report.

Other violations included improper handling of lead contaminated materials, recordkeeping and equipment maintenance. The company's compliance plan required process and building improvements, site clean up, and more air monitoring.

AQMD has implemented regulations since the late 2000s, which have successfully reduced lead emissions from Exide Technologies. The company is now in compliance with the federal health standard for outdoor levels of lead.

Just a few months ago, Exide's Frisco, Texas, battery recycling plant
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shut down after the City of Frisco purchased vacant land owned by Exide in exchange for the closure of the plant.

Exide will hold a number of public meetings in May to inform potentially affected residents of the high potential cancer risk caused by Exide’s high toxic emissions.