Los Angeles Business Journal

State Orders Shutdown of Vernon Battery Recycling Plant

By Howard Fine Wednesday, April 24, 2013

California regulators on Wednesday ordered the shutdown of a battery recycling plant in Vernon for failure to control pollution at the facility.

The plant has been operated under an interim permit for more than 30 years by Milton, Ga. battery maker Exide Technologies. It recycled about 22 million lead-acid automotive batteries annually.

Earlier this year, the South Coast Air Quality Management District issued a report saying the Exide plant was emitting hazardous levels of arsenic and other cancer-causing chemicals into the air, threatening the health of more than 100,000 nearby residents.

That report prompted the California Department of Toxic Substances Control to conduct an investigation of waste discharges from pipes at the facility. The agency found hazardous levels of toxic metals in the water flowing out of those pipes. The extent of the contamination of surrounding soil and underground water supplies is still under investigation.

“This new information provides clear evidence that this suspension is necessary,” said Brian Johnson, head of DTSC’s hazardous waste management program.

The agency’s order requires Exide Technologies to demonstrate that it can operate without posing a significant health risk and to stop the release of hazardous waste in pipes before the order to suspend operations can be lifted.

Susan Jaramillo, a spokeswoman for Exide Technologies, said the company has a policy of not responding to administrative actions regarding the company.

Exide Technologies had been operating the plant with an interim permit from the DTSC since 1981; it had applied for a full operating permit.

Los Angeles City Councilman Jose Huizar, who represents residents in Boyle Heights near the Vernon facility, said he welcomed the DTSC’s decision. However, he said, “I do question why the company was allowed to operate with an interim permit for so long when a full permit would demand a higher level of specificity, which clearly is warranted in this case.”