Health

Report on tests for toxics near battery recycler Quemetco delayed

The Quemetco battery recycling plant.
The Quemetco battery recycling plant.
Maya Sugarman/KPCC

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State regulators had planned to issue a report last month on the results of tests for toxic metals around the Quemetco battery recycling plant, but now they say the report won’t be ready until March.

Crews have collected soil samples from more than 130 residential properties within a one-quarter mile radius around the City of Industry plant, but they have not finished gathering samples from seven commercial properties in that area, said Jose Diaz, project manager at the Department of Toxic Substances Control.

Getting agreements from commercial properties to gather samples "took longer than anticipated," he said, adding that "the sampling itself is very labor intensive."

Work gathering samples from the remaining commercial properties began on Tuesday and "shouldn't take more than a couple of weeks to complete," said Diaz, who noted that rain could delay the work. 

The soil is tested for lead and a number of other potentially harmful materials, including arsenic and cadmium. Toxic Substances Control will then have to finish analyzing the lab results before issuing its report on the concentrations of those metals found around Quemetco. The agency will also announce whether it needs to take soil samples from a wider area.

Quemetco is working closely with Toxic Substances Control to ensure the testing is done "fairly, thoroughly, as completely as possible and as expeditiously as possible," said company spokesman Dan Kramer.

"I’m looking forward to seeing [the report]," said Rebecca Overmyer-Velazquez, coordinator of the Clean Air Coalition of North Whittier and Avocado Heights.

"My optimistic side says that they’re doing a careful job and that they want to make sure that they’ve collected all the relevant data and that they’re going to analyze it thoroughly," she said. "I don’t want them to rush through a report before they’re ready to give us detailed and accurate results."

Overmyer-Velazquez accused Toxic Substances Control last September of not collecting soil samples from a sufficient number of homes in the quarter-mile zone around the plant. On Wednesday, she said that after reviewing maps, she now believes the agency's sampling is "a pretty good representation" of the residential area. 

The 2015 closure of the Exide Technologies recycling plant in Vernon left Quemetco as the only facility recycling lead acid batteries west of the Rockies, said Kramer. The majority of the batteries recycled at the plant come from California, with a smaller number from other states or abroad, he said.

Toxic Substances Control is overseeing a massive cleanup operation that ultimately could involve the testing and cleanup of thousands of properties around Exide. 

The state decided to check for contamination around Quemetco partly because of widespread lead contamination attributed to Exide, and partly because Quemetco is seeking permission to renew its hazardous waste permit and increase the number of batteries it recycles.