Exide Battery Plant Cited For Hazardous Waste Violations

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Exide Technologies is in trouble again with state environmental regulators who on Wednesday cited the Vernon battery recycler for eight hazardous-waste violations.

Inspections last week by the California Department of Toxic Substances Control found the lead-acid battery recycling plant was treating and storing contaminated sludge in unauthorized tanks that lacked an adequate containment system to prevent spills.

In a statement, Exide Vice President Tom Strang said "the company is already taking action pursuant to the notice and will continue to work with the DTSC so that all applicable standards and protocols are met. We intend to operate a premier recycling facility."

The agency cited Exide for several other violations found during the Jan. 20 and Jan. 21 inspections, including improperly labeling hazardous-waste containers including improperly labeling hazardous-waste containers. Inspectors also found holes in the facility’s walls and roof. The state said the company must show that it has corrected the problems within 10 days.

Exide also failed to properly report a Jan. 12 spill of sodium hydroxide, a caustic liquid used in the recycling process, the toxic substances agency said. The chemical did not make it off-site and was captured and disposed of properly, the agency said. Because the spilled liquid is not classified as hazardous waste, that incident was referred to the city of Vernon for investigation.

The citations are the latest in a series of pollution and waste troubles at the plant about five miles southeast of downtown Los Angeles. Exide recycles lead from used automotive and industrial batteries. It has been under fire from community groups since a March 2013 report revealed its emissions of arsenic, a cancer-causing pollutant, posed a health risk to more than 100,000 people across southeast Los Angeles County.

Exide has been cited repeatedly for releasing too much lead into the air and is paying to clean lead-tainted soil from homes in nearby Maywood and Boyle Heights under an agreement reached with state regulators in November. The facility has been idle since March as the company works to install new pollution controls.

The company is in Chapter 11 bankruptcy proceedings, under criminal investigation by a federal grand jury and has been sued by regional air quality regulators and nearby residents.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency inspected the Exide plant in August 2014 and its investigation is ongoing, a spokeswoman said.

The state Department of Toxic Substances Control has for decades allowed the facility to operate with a temporary permit. Under a California law signed last year by Gov. Jerry Brown, the state is required to shut down the facility if it does not obtain a full permit by the end of 2015.

The state inspected the Exide plant “to make sure that the permit application correctly reflects all of the conditions at the site,” said Barbara A. Lee, director of the state Department of Toxic Substances Control. The newly discovered problems will factor into the agency’s decision and could also result in fines, she added.

Liza Tucker with the nonprofit advocacy group Consumer Watchdog said “given Exide's egregious pollution and overt sloppiness, attested to by these violations, the company should be shuttered.”

For more environment news, follow @tonybarboza

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