Exide Technologies in Vernon.
On Monday I reported on Exide Technologies' effort to persuade a judge to let it reopen after the Department of Toxic Substances Control suspended operations at its Vernon plant in April. Here are answers to common questions about Exide and battery recycling.
What do battery recyclers like Exide Technologies in Vernon do?
Old lead-acid batteries, like those you see under the hood of your car, are gathered up and shipped to secondary recycling facilities. (Motorcycle batteries and other commercial batteries go to Vernon too.) They’re disassembled or otherwise broken down; first, plastic casings and hardware are pulled off and separated. Then the lead is melted down in furnaces, to separate it from the acid parts. The lead is smelted into ingots, lead-alloy bars, or blocks as large as a ton, and then re-used in batteries and other similar products.
How many battery recyclers are there in California?
Two. The only two battery recyclers in the U.S. west of the Rockies are Exide Technologies, in Vernon, and Quemetco, in the City of Industry.
RELATED: Exide to ask judge to let it reopen
Where else does Exide operate?
Exide’s global headquarters are in Milton, Georgia. It manufactures batteries in numerous U.S., Pacific Rim, European and Australian locations. Exide recycles batteries in the U.S. at plants in Baton Rouge, Louisiana; Canon Hollow, Missouri; Muncie, Indiana; and Reading, Pennsylvania.
At present, Exide’s Frisco, Texas and Vernon, California plants are closed. Exide shut down its Frisco plant last year. Cleanup work at that plant has been stalled since March 2013, when environmental quality regulators found higher-than-expected amounts of lead and cadmium onsite. Exide has said that it remains on schedule to finish cleaning the property by May 2014, and it’s just waiting for the go-ahead from environmental regulators.
What are the potential environmental hazards in battery recycling?
Lead is a toxic metal. According to CalRecycle, "Symptoms of low-level lead exposure include fatigue, impaired central nervous system functions, and impaired learning. Severe lead poisoning can result in coma, convulsions, irreversible mental retardation, seizures, and even death."
The concerns about recycling lead stem from potential failures to control air emissions or hazardous waste during the recycling process. Emissions can transport particulate matter, including lead and arsenic. Poorly contained lead waste, including waste water, can leach toxic materials into soil and groundwater surrounding a recycling facility.
Exposure to lead in all three media - air, soil, and water - can harm humans and wildlife.
Who regulates Exide in California?
The Department of Toxic Substances Control regulates companies that handle hazardous waste under authority of the federal Resource Conservation and Recovery Act of 1976. Under federal law, regulators permit companies like Exide to handle hazardous materials like lead as long as they do so safely. DTSC writes permits, inspects facilities, issues violations of hazardous waste rules, and monitors corrective action at sites.
The South Coast Air Quality Management District regulates Exide’s air emissions, in part with what’s called a Title V permit, which allows the company to release pollutants into the air up to certain levels.
The L.A. Regional Water Quality Control Board is responsible for protecting water quality around Exide (as well as around the Los Angeles River and along the coast). Exide has wastewater treatment systems, and a stormwater system that includes a retention basin. Water regulators set standards for water that flows away from Exide’s property into the sewer.
The City of Vernon issues health and other permits to Exide.
How could Exide operate with just a temporary permit since 1981?
The Vernon plant was owned by a company called Gould when it first applied for a permit in the 1980s. Exide took it over in 2000.
The most recent time Exide filed a complete permit application was 2006.
Is there concrete evidence that Exide’s operation has caused health problems in the surrounding communities?
No. In heavily industrial urban areas, it is exceedingly difficult to determine a direct link between a specific facility and an individual’s health condition.
Are there alternatives to recycling lead batteries at plants like Exide’s?
Not really. In principle, lead recycling is considered a successful way to reuse materials. Ninety seven percent of battery lead gets recycled.