The Exide plant in Vernon, Calif. has reached an agreement to shut down. Photo by Art Torres
Photo by Art Torres
Photo by Art Torres

The South Coast Air Quality Management District has filed a lawsuit seeking up to $40 million in damages from battery recycler Exide Technologies for violations due to illegal emissions of lead and arsenic.

The lawsuit, filed in Los Angeles Superior Court on Thursday, alleges the company has exposed residents in Southeast Los Angeles County, including Boyle Heights, to excessive toxic emissions.

“These toxic emissions have exposed more than 100,000 residents to an unacceptable cancer risk and for that reason we are seeking to recover a significant penalty from them,” said SCAQMD Executive Officer Barry Wallerstein.

SCAQMD is also seeking an order from the independent SCAQMD Hearing Board that would require Exide to stop its smelting operations until it can improve air pollution systems to reduce arsenic emissions.

Last week, the agency’s Governing Board adopted regulations limiting arsenic emissions from lead-acid battery plants.

Arsenic has been identified as a carcinogen that also has acute and chronic non-cancer effects. Lead is a toxic air contaminant that can cause damage to nervous system, cardiovascular issues, and kidney problems among others.

Early last year, SCAQMD required Exide to develop a risk reduction plan. It rejected the company’s first plan as inadequate, but is now evaluating a resubmitted plan.

Exide Technologies, located in Vernon, is one of only two lead-acid battery-recycling plants west of the Rockies. The company, which has been in operation since 1922, currently recycles more than 25,000 batteries a day.

SCAQMD is the air pollution control agency for Orange County, and major portions of Los Angeles, San Bernardino and Riverside Counties.

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