March 28, 2013

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Battery recycling plant exposes Boyle Heights residents to dangerous emissions

A battery recycling plant bordering Boyle Heights has been ordered to lower its cancer-causing emissions posing a danger to more than 110,000 southeast Los Angeles area residents.

The South Coast Air Quality Management District directed the Vernon facility, Exide Technologies, to provide a “risk reduction plan” after recent assessments showed a high cancer risk affecting a significant number of residents in Boyle Heights, Vernon, Maywood, Huntington Park, Commerce and some areas of East L.A.

The battery recycling giant provided the report in compliance to Assembly Bill 2588, the so-called Toxic Hot Spots program, which requires companies that emit toxic air pollutants to assess possible health risks and regularly provide reports of their findings.

Exide showed a higher cancer risk affecting a greater number of residents due to the high arsenic emissions than the more than 450 AQMD regulated facilities in Southern California, reported the Los Angeles Times.

In a March 1 letter to Exide, the AQMD indicates that the facility poses a maximum individual cancer risk of 156 people in one million after long-term exposure (primarily from arsenic) for workers at or near the facility.

“We strongly encourage that the plan submittal and any risk reduction steps be expedited given the high risk levels associated with your facility,” stated AQMD.

District officials gave Exide 180 days to submit the plan, which must be completed in three years.

AQMD regulations require facilities to provide annual public notification whenever the level exceeds 10 per million people, and when it reaches 25 cases per million people, the company must take steps to reduce those emissions.

The risks to Boyle Heights residents reached 22 cases per million.

Los Angeles City Councilmember Jose Huizar, whose 14th district includes Boyle Heights, released a statement saying he was outraged by the findings.

“As the Councilmember representing Boyle Heights and as a father who is raising his four children there, I join all Boyle Heights residents and the surrounding affected communities in demanding that these unacceptable exposure levels be addressed immediately by Exide, regardless of the financial costs,” said Huizar.

He also pledges to work with the ACMD to ensure that Exide cleans up their act.

“The AQMD must use all of its authority to protect residents from dangerous emissions, and I intend to work closely with them to control this polluter,” said Huizar.

This is not the first time Exide has had emission control issues addressed by the district, a fact not lost to Union de Vecinos Director and Boyle Heights resident Leonardo Vilchis.

“The efforts that have been made to address problems with Exide in the past have not been successful in the long run,” he said.

Vilchis is referring to Exide’s past health-related issues that includes a 2008 SCAQMD order to cut unacceptable levels of lead emissions.

“It’s unfortunate that people don’t have access to this information,” said Vilchis, adding that one of the problems most residents don’t realize is that Exide is not the only company fouling the air.

“What about the cumaltive impact from other companies operating around us? We’re not just breathing-in Exide air,” said Vilchis.

As required by AQMD, Exide announced it will hold public meetings in May to explain the hazards affecting thousands of residents.