Exide Technologies Files for Bankruptcy and Threatens Californians with Bill for Cleanup that Top Toxics Regulator Botched

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SANTA MONICA, CA – Now that lead battery recycler Exide Technologies has filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy, the Department of Toxic Substances Control (DTSC) has potentially stuck California taxpayers with the tab for multi-millions in cleanup costs in the city of Vernon, Consumer Watchdog said today. The DTSC suspended operations at the plant on April 24 because of imminent danger to the public health.

Exide follows on the heels of Evergreen Oil. That used oil refiner in Newark filed for bankruptcy earlier this spring. “These companies are now poster children for fiscal mismanagement at the DTSC,” said consumer advocate Liza Tucker.

“In Exide’s case, terrible regulation included the DTSC doing not nearly enough for years to address dangerous accumulations of lead, arsenic, and other contaminants on the ground from air emissions,” said consumer advocate Liza Tucker. “But it also includes gross financial mismanagement.” Tucker said that the DTSC is authorized to demand a company show it can cover the cost of corrective actions the department orders as part of the permitting process, but the DTSC never did that in Exide’s case.

In fact, instead of making Exide fix a storm drain system never meant to carry dangerous heavy metals that would flow into it during wash-downs of the property or when it rained, DTSC managers told local DTSC regulators two years ago to ignore the problem, instead of order Exide to do something about it, while they wrote a final permit for the plant that never materialized, Tucker said. The company was ordered to cleanup in 2002, but the DTSC didn't ask them to put up any money for fixes then either, said Tucker.

Tucker said that air regulators also shared blame. Over the years, DTSC regulators in southern California told the South Coast Air Quality Management District that their permitted levels of emissions were nevertheless causing the accumulation of hazardous waste on the ground. “Air regulators did nothing,” said Tucker. “They figured it wasn’t their problem. So, instead, they made it the DTSC’s and now everyone else’s.”

Hazardous waste companies are also required to show they can cover the cost of closing a facility and maintaining it safely long-term. Exide put up $10 million. “That will not come close to actually cleaning up all the contamination at the site,” said Tucker. “What’s involved is cleaning up lead all over the neighborhood, digging up soil to deep levels around the plant’s equipment that also needs decontamination, and capping a dangerous slag landfill that has been leaking lead into the groundwater for decades. Never mind actually cleaning the groundwater of contaminants.”

In Evergreen’s case, the DTSC never asked it to show it could cover the ordered cleanup of contaminated soil and water. The reported $400,000 to cover the costs of closing the facility that it put up as a condition of its permit will not be enough to both decontaminate the plant and clean up the contamination should it eventually go out of business, said Tucker.

“Not only is the DTSC falling down on protecting consumers from toxic harm,” Tucker wrote, “It is also falling down on protecting them from fiscal harm. It is time for a full and independent financial audit of DTSC and for them to provide a complete list of the amount of financial assurance they have received from companies they regulate both for closure and all corrective actions.”

For more on Exide and on the DTSC see:

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Liza Tucker
Liza Tucker
Liza Tucker is a consumer advocate for Consumer Watchdog, following everything from oil and gas to the regulation of toxic substances in the state of California. She comes to us from Marketplace, the largest U.S. broadcast show on business and economics heard by ten million listeners each week on 400 radio stations. Liza worked at this public radio show for a decade, first as Commentary Editor and then as Senior Editor for both Washington and Sustainability News.

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