Those excited by the agreed-upon permanent closure of the Exide battery recycling plant in Vernon will have to settle in for a long wait — years — before all of the lead and arsenic contamination is stripped from the site.
Before cleanup can begin, officials with the Department of Toxic Substances Control say that a bankruptcy court will have to approve the terms of the agreement that Exide made with the Department of Justice earlier this week.
Barbara Lee, director of the DTSC, said that she expects the court to approve the agreement on March 27.
Lee said that if that occurs, she expects the first phase of cleanup to begin in October. The first phase is the complete removal of structures from the property, a process that is expected to take nearly two years.
The extent of the contamination on the site needs to be characterized before demolition work can begin.
“They’re still working on the plans to begin that work, and we need to have all of those in place, primarily to make sure that it’s done properly and that there aren’t any exposures to the community resulting from that work,” Lee said.
The second phase — decontamination of the site — will take several years to complete.
Lee said that she is satisfied with the way the DTSC has handled the Exide case under her tenure.
“We worked really hard to ensure that one, the facility is closing; two, the site is being cleaned up; three, the residences are being cleaned up, and the community is being protected; and four, Exide is paying for it,” Lee said.
Cleanup of the neighboring residences is progressing, said Elise Rothschild, deputy director of the hazardous waste management program at the DTSC.
- Of the 216 residences in the affected area, 58 have been sampled for contamination and nearly 40 have been cleaned
- Rothschild said that on average, cleanup of a residence takes about a week and costs roughly $45,000
- Exide has already spent roughly $700,000 on residential cleanup
Lee said that the DTSC is scheduling a community meeting in April to provide more information about the closure and cleanup.