CA Emergency Order: Clean Up Toxins

Monday, December 23, 2013 @ 11:12 AM gHale

A Vernon, CA, battery recycler must clean up lead and other metals deposited near the Exide Technologies plant, state regulators said.

Dust and soil samples with metals in concentrations at or near hazardous waste levels are near the facility and must be cleaned up by Jan. 31, said officials at the state Department of Toxic Substances Control (DTSC) in a letter released Wednesday. The order is urgent, the agency wrote, because winter rains could wash the metals into the Los Angeles River.

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“DTSC considers the elevated concentrations of lead and other contaminants … an immediate threat to human health and the environment (i.e. the Los Angeles River),” regulators wrote to Exide, one of the world’s largest battery recyclers. Exide has until Dec. 31 to come up with a work plan.

The agency’s letter does not say where they found the high concentrations of lead, but said they were within 1,500 feet of the plant and in two storm drains along Bandini Boulevard.

Agency officials also said in a separate memo earlier this month “lead…and arsenic was detected in several locations in residential areas.” It did not specify the concentrations near residential areas, only that they are above the Environmental Protection Agency’s regional screening levels but below hazardous waste levels.

Exide officials were not immediately available for comment.

The state’s emergency order comes as the South Coast Air Quality Management District is pursuing its own petition calling for a halt to lead smelting operations at Exide “until its air pollution control systems are improved and deemed adequate” to control toxic emissions.

A hearing board for the air district is now taking testimony on that petition, including from residents who said there is a threat to their health and from Exide officials who say the plant should be able to stay open and emissions have plummeted in recent months.

Exide has been the focus of intense attention from elected leaders, residents and officials since a health risk assessment released earlier this year by the air district found the plant was posing an elevated cancer risk to 110,000 people living in communities stretching from Boyle Heights to Huntington Park because of arsenic emissions.

In 2000, Exide took over the plant, which opened in 1922. The company has received citations over the past few years, often for exceeding permissible levels of lead.

In April, the toxics department, which oversees the plant, moved to shut it down temporarily, citing health risks, but Exide appealed and a judge allowed the plant to resume operations.

The state entered into an agreement with the company in which Exide agreed to spend $7.7 million for a new storm water system and improvements to reduce arsenic emissions.

It also agreed to sample dust and soil in the neighborhood around its plant to determine whether dangerous metals have accumulated and are posing a health risk to the community.

Lead is a potent neurotoxin. Children are more vulnerable than adults and can suffer learning disabilities even with limited exposure. Arsenic, a carcinogen, can also cause nausea, decreased blood-cell production and abnormal heart rhythm.

Inspectors collected soil and dust samples in August and October. Based on the results, the toxics agency this week told the company it must take more samples beyond 4,500 feet from the plant’s perimeter, to make sure toxins have not spread further.

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