Victory in Our Time: Exide Plant to Close for Good, First Phase of Clean-Up of Site to Begin Immediately
As news began to trickle out Wednesday night that, under an agreement with the U.S. Attorney’s Office, embattled lead-acid battery recycler Exide Technologies will be forced to permanently shutter its Vernon plant, hope seemed to have finally been restored to those who have spent years clamoring for environmental justice.
In the 15 years since Exide took over operations at the Vernon site, it has repeatedly violated air quality and other standards by improperly storing lead-acid batteries, contaminating a drainage channel with lead, failing to clean up public areas it contaminated around the plant, spilling approximately 1136 lbs. of lead into the watershed (between 2003 and 2006), exceeding airborne lead emissions multiple times (including during the period it was closed for upgrades last year), not repairing degraded pipes carrying up to 310,000 gallons of contaminant-laden wastewater a day, and, most recently, storing “contaminated sludge in tanks that [it] is not authorized to operate,” failing to sufficiently protect against spills of hazardous waste, and “fail[ing] to minimize the possibility of any unplanned sudden or non-sudden release of hazardous wastes or hazardous waste constituents to air, soil, or surface water.”
Most egregiously, Exide managed to accomplish all of these terrible feats while operating on an interim permit, something many in the surrounding communities have long viewed as negligence on the part of the Department of Toxic Substances Control (DTSC), the South Coast Air Quality Management District (AQMD), and other relevant authorities.
Exide didn’t even file its first application for a formal operating permit until 2006. Nor was it hit with any real financial penalties until very recently. By the DTSC’s own admission, between 1990 and 2015, it only levied a total of about $2 million in penalties against Exide and its predecessors in 10 separate enforcement actions. A $1.3 million fine — the bulk of that total — was not levied against Exide until November, 2014.
The agreement to close the plant will therefore be a largely welcome one for most in the surrounding communities (minus, of course, the 130 employees who have now permanently lost their jobs).
But it doesn’t mean we’re quite out of the woods, yet. Read more…