Exide to shut down Vernon battery recycling plant, pay $50 million for clean-up

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Friday, March 13, 2015
Exide to shut down Vernon battery recycling plant, pay $50 million for clean-up
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The U.S. Department of Justice announced the closure of a battery recycling plant in Vernon, which has come under fire for releasing dangerous chemicals.

VERNON, Calif. (KABC) -- The U.S. Department of Justice announced Thursday the permanent closure of a battery recycling plant in Vernon operated by Exide Technologies. The company will also pay $50 million to clean up the site and nearby neighborhoods affected by dangerous toxins released from its facility.

"The reign of toxic lead ends today," acting U.S. Attorney Stephanie Yonekura said in a statement. "After more than nine decades of ongoing lead contamination in the City of Vernon, neighborhoods can now start to breathe easier."

The battery recycling plant has sat idle for a year due to major legal and environmental problems.

The State Department of Toxic Substances Control found that Exide had been releasing cancer-causing arsenic into the air for years. The facility's failing pipes also leaked water contaminated with hazardous wastes into the soil below the facility. Authorities found elevated levels of lead in the soil of homes and a school near the Vernon plant.

Exide had two choices after these discoveries: shut down or face criminal charges, federal prosecutors said.

As part of the deal, Exide acknowledged it illegally stored, disposed and transported hazardous waste. The company also admitted that it produced hazardous wastes, including lead, cadmium, arsenic and volatile organic compounds.

The facility is expected to be demolished and cleaned up.

"The agreement to close the plant is the best outcome for the health of exposed residents. It is the best outcome for society," said Los Angeles County Supervisor Hilda Solis, who represents Vernon.

Federal prosecutors said the final agreement will cost the company about $100 million to comply, including losses incurred from recent improvements to the facility. About $9 million will go into trust fund for the clean-up of 216 residences in Boyle Heights and Maywood.

In exchange, Exide will not face criminal charges. If the agreement is not followed, the government could prosecute Exide for any crimes committed.

"Without the NPA (Non-Prosecution Agreement), prosecutors believe, Exide would cease to exist as a viable company and responsibility to clean up toxic sites like the recycling plant in Vernon would revert to governmental agencies," prosecutors said in a statement.

Exide operates several facilities across the country. In 2013, the company filed for bankruptcy.

"We recognize the impacts that closing the Vernon facility will have on our approximately 130 employees and their families. By obtaining plan confirmation and emerging from Chapter 11, Exide expects to be able to meet its closure and cleanup obligations under these agreements," Exide released in a statement.