Pacific Swell

Southern California environment news and trends

Regulators close Exide Technologies car battery recycler in Vernon; cite cancer risk, contaminated soil [updated]

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The California Department of Toxic Substances Control has shut down a battery recycling plant in Vernon whose own investigation revealed that it’s contaminating the soil around it. Exide Technologies recycles 22 million car batteries a year at its Vernon plant. The DTSC said Wednesday that it has suspended Exide’s operating permit.

Last month, regional air regulators said arsenic in Exide’s emissions has raised cancer risks for people in nearby Maywood, Huntington Park and Boyle Heights. DTSC Director Debbie Raphael says video provided by Exide shows that its wastewater pipes are leaking metals and other toxic substances into the ground:

“We have concerns today, right now, that are telling us we need to shut down that facility immediately to make sure that it is not releasing contaminants in the environment and not harming the communities that surround it,” said Raphael.

Exide has shut down operations immediately. Raphael says it can’t re-open until it proves that its operations are safe.

The consumer advocacy group Consumer Watchdog said the DTSC “did the right thing” in suspending Exide’s operating permit, but the group also criticized the agency for never forcing the company to comply with laws that required it to prove it had enough cash to pay for any actions required by regulators, including the cost of closure.

“Exide has only put up $10 million dollars for closure—that is nowhere near enough” if the company needs to clean up a high level of toxic contamination, said Consumer Watchdog’s Liza Tucker. In that case, “Californians could be left holding the bag,” she said.

DTSC Spokesman Sandy Nax responded by saying that the department “has taken significant, decisive and effective action against Exide to protect Californians and the environment. The implication that Californians will be left holding the bag is wrong.”

The DTSC has been under fire from Consumer Watchdog in recent months. In February the consumer group issued a lengthy report detailing what it said was the DTSC’s failure to protect Californians from toxic pollution. It has also called on Governor Brown to fire two top DTSC officials for holding significant financial interests in companies regulated or licensed by the DTSC. The state Fair Political Practices Commission subsequently launched an investigation of one of the officials

This story was updated at 3 p.m. on April 24, 2013.

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