Southern California environment news and trends

Vernon battery recycling plant can reopen despite health risks

Exide

Mae Ryan/KPCC

An employee wearing a breathing mask works at Exide Technologies, a battery recycling plant has discharged harmful amounts of lead into surrounding communities.

A lead battery recycler in Vernon shuttered as a public health threat two months ago has won the right to reopen, at least temporarily. 

In April, the California Department of Toxic Substances Control(DTSC) ordered Exide Technologies to suspend operations. The company's own inspection video had revealed holes in underground pipes that leaked wastewater into the soil. A health risk assessment released by air regulators had found sharply elevated cancer risks from cyanide and lead emissions for nearby workers and people who lived near the facility.

RELATED: Exide FAQ: Everything you need to know about recycling lead batteries in LA

The company challenged the closure in an administrative proceeding which started earlier this month. But the overworked state Office of Administrative Hearings has not been able to schedule enough time to finish hearing the dispute. 

Exide's Vernon plant recycled up to 40,000 batteries each day; it's one of only two lead-battery recycling facilities west of the Mississippi. The company filed for bankruptcy protection last week. 

Last week Exide went to Superior Court to ask a judge there to block the suspension. Judge Luis Lavin Monday issued a temporary restraining order against the DTSC, writing that Exide would be irreparably harmed by a slow administrative hearing, and that the public interest will not suffer by allowing the lead recycler to get the Vernon plant back to work.

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