State regulators announced an enforcement order Thursday requiring Exide Technologies to set aside millions of dollars to cover the costs of potentially closing its battery-recycling plant in Vernon, and requiring the company to perform a $9 million environmental cleanup of nearby neighborhoods.
Under the order from the state Department of Toxic Substances Control, Exide also must pay $526,000 in penalties for recent hazardous waste violations, and reimburse the agency $760,000 in costs relating to oversight of the facility.
Exide had previously set aside $11.1 million for a possible closure of the facility. The latest order requires the company to put an additional $27.5 million into that fund.
“This order is a critical and necessary step that outlines the legal obligations that compel Exide to protect the health of people in the community, and provide the funds to do this important work,” acting DTSC Director Miriam Ingenito said.
Exide officials said they had agreed to the order, which is subject to the approval of a bankruptcy judge in Delaware. The company filed for bankruptcy protecting in June 2013.
“The department’s order is tough and robust, requiring Exide to comply with numerous stringent actions as the company seeks to obtain its permanent permit,” said Thomas Strang, Exide’s vice president of environmental health and safety. “Exide is committed to working with regulators, operating a premier recycling facility, putting our employees back to work and engaging transparently with the community.”
Exide has been under fire for years over the operation of its Vernon plant, which has been shuttered since mid-March while management works to upgrade pollution controls and meet other regulatory requirements. Regulators have faulted the plant for excess emissions of lead and arsenic. Residents and elected officials have rallied for the closure of the plant.
On Wednesday, Los Angeles County Supervisor Gloria Molina asked county attorneys to evaluate legal options for forcing a shutdown of the plant, which has been in operation under various management since 1922.
When operational, the plant recycles about 25,000 batteries daily. It is one of only two lead-acid battery recycling plants west of the Rockies.
The plant does not have a hazardous waste facility permit from the state. It has been operating under an interim permit from the state. A decision on whether to issue a full permit is expected by December 2015, according to the DTSC.
Under the enforcement order, Exide will be required to set aside $9 million to conduct environmental cleanup in two areas, one in Boyle Heights and the other in Maywood. Meetings with affected homeowners are expected to begin next week.
The effort will include 39 previously identified properties near the plant that had elevated levels of lead in the soil, along with any other properties found to have high lead concentrations, according to Exide.
“We recognize the community’s concerns and have committed to clean residential properties and work efficiently to minimize disruptions to residents,” Strang said.
— City News Service
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