Environment & Science

Orders clear the air in Exide pollution fight

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

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A troubled lead battery recycling facility that has sparked outrage over excessive arsenic and lead emissions has gotten approval to implement pollution controls at its Vernon facility. The move could open a way for Exide Technologies to resume operations, which have been shut down since March. 

At a public hearing on Thursday, an independent hearing board with the South Coast Air Quality Management District approved two orders that impose conditions on Exide to control arsenic emissions from smelting and lead-dust emissions from construction work.

Exide will have to install more air pollution control devices designed to reduce arsenic and lead emissions. It will also have to implement dust-control measures. 

The Vernon facility has been cited numerous times for excessive levels of toxic emissions. Last year, AQMD found arsenic pollution from the facility increased the cancer risk for more than 100-thousand people in the area. This year, soil samples taken near the facility showed high levels of lead. 

In a written statement, an Exide official said the company agreed with the terms of the orders and that it would dismiss a lawsuit it had brought against the SCAQMD over a rule regarding pressure requirements.

“The new orders from AQMD are a significant and positive step forward for our employees, the community, and the recycling industry,” said Thomas Strang, Exide’s Vice President of Environment Health & Safety – Americas. “Exide is committed to meeting the new air quality standards. Completing this plan will enhance the environmental performance of our Vernon facility and allow us to resume our role as part of California’s green economy.”