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California and Exide reach agreement on addressing suspension of lead-acid battery recycling facility in Vernon, CA

The Department of Toxic Substances Control (DTSC) of the California Environmental Protection Agency has reached agreement with Exide Technologies Inc. for the issuance of a Stipulation and Order that addresses the two central concerns identified in the April 2013 order to suspend Exide’s operations at its lead-acid battery recycling facility in Vernon, CA.

Exide Technologies, based in Milton, Ga., has operations in more than 80 countries and is one of the world’s largest producers and recyclers of lead-acid batteries. The Vernon plant is one of two battery recycling facilities west of the Rockies. It recycles approximately 25,000 lead-acid batteries daily and 8 million a year.

The two main issues were the risks to health posed by the facility’s arsenic emissions to air, and the use of deteriorated pipes that leaked water potentially contaminated with hazardous wastes into soil below the facility.

DTSC says that the order includes requirements that go beyond its initial concerns. These requirements are designed to identify potential impacts the facility may have had on surrounding communities.

The order contains enforceable timelines and sets aside $7.7 million to pay for the following additional requirements:

  • Installation of improvements to bring down arsenic emissions. This month, Exide will begin installing additional high-efficiency filters to reduce emissions and later, a separate device to cut organic emissions. Exide began furnace modifications early this year to reduce arsenic emissions. Preliminary tests in April showed arsenic levels below regulatory health risk thresholds. When the remaining installation is completed next summer, at a cost of more than $2.5 million, emissions are expected to be further reduced to a theoretical cancer risk of less than half the level allowed by the South Coast California Air Quality Management District (AQMD).

  • Replacement of an antiquated piping system. Under the agreement, Exide will replace on-site underground storm-water piping with a more advanced double-walled system at a cost of more than $4 million. Exide says it has expedited construction, which is well underway and is expected to be completed by year-end.

  • Blood lead level testing for nearby residents that will be conducted by the Los Angeles County of Public Health using LACPDPH's protocols

  • Dust and soil sampling around the facility and into the surrounding community.

The blood lead testing and the soil sampling go beyond the requirements of the order that suspended Exide’s operations in April in that they will help determine whether lead emitted from Exide’s operations has impacted the community.

The suspension order in April 2013 shut down the Vernon plant for more than seven weeks. The facility resumed operations in late June after obtaining a preliminary injunction ruling in its favor from a Los Angeles Superior Court.

The order announced today is the result of discussions between Exide and the Department, and Exide must obtain permission from the bankruptcy judge to implement it. The Order would resolve the suspension issued in April. The bankruptcy court is not expected to consider the matter until 5 Nov. 2013, at the earliest, according to DTSC.

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