Top Toxics Regulator Suspends Lead Battery Recycler Exide But Consumer Watchdog Warns Californians Could Be On Hook For Millions In Cleanup Costs

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SANTA MONICA, CA –The Department Toxic Substances Control (DTSC) did the right thing in taking aggressive action against the biggest lead battery recycler in the state, a serial toxic polluter, Consumer Watchdog said today. But the group faulted the DTSC for serious lapses in its regulation of the facility over two decades. Specifically, the group said that the DTSC was aware of extensive pollution of groundwater, air, and soil at the site for years. The DTSC never required the company to prove that it had the cash in the bank to follow through on required corrective actions.

“If the DTSC had taken stronger action much earlier, then the company would have put up the money for the corrective actions that regulators had already called for,” said consumer advocate Liza Tucker. “This way Californians could be left holding the bag.”

Laws require that hazardous waste handlers put up money in the form of financial assurance—a bond, insurance policy, or other money—to prove they can cover the cost of fixes ordered by regulators. Companies also have to show financial assurance that can cover the closure of a facility and its long-term care. “The DTSC never demanded that Exide Technologies put up money for any required fixes,” said Tucker. “And Exide has only put up $10 million dollars for closure—that is nowhere near enough if it comes to it to take care of a highly contaminated slag landfill for decades into the future.”
DTSC officials regulating Exide warned their managers years ago that Exide was emitting lead and arsenic into the air where it was accumulating at hazardous waste levels onto the ground and surrounding roofs, said Tucker, and they were told to ignore the problem. DTSC regulators also informed their managers of problems with Exide’s perforated underground pipes and that was also ignored.

The facility has contributed dangerous levels of lead, zinc, arsenic and TCE to the groundwater and soil. The company also ignored corrective actions the DTSC ordered them to take as part of interim steps to clean up the facility. “Exide blew off the DTSC when it came to a soil vapor extraction system,” said Tucker. “And they’ve never done anything about properly capping the enormous slag landfill that has contaminated the environment well beyond the perimeter of the facility.”

Tucker said that the DTSC never armed itself with the tools to compel Exide to comply with its orders because it deliberately ignored the requirement for financial assurance on corrective action. “It will not be possible for the company to clean up the site quickly, and thus it is not clear whether they can or will re-open, or they’ll just file for bankruptcy,” Tucker said.

The only other lead battery recycler in California—Quemetco—won’t be able to handle the 22 million car batteries that Exide recycles every year, according to Tucker. “This is a classic situation where we privatized the profits and socialized the costs,” Tucker said. “If Exide closes, will regulators demand that companies selling used batteries to Exide pay for this? Or will the taxpayer be on the hook? I think I know how that plays out.”

For more on DTSC’s failures 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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