Exide Technologies is immediately closing its lead-acid battery recycling facility in Vernon, Calif., admitting felony violations and agreeing to pay millions of dollars to tear down the site and clean neighboring land.
In what is being called a non-prosecution agreement, the Milton, Ga.-based company agreed to “immediately and permanently cease recycling operations” at the facility that's been open since 1922.
Exide has owned the controversial location since 2000, when it purchased the facility from GNB Technologies Inc., according to the agreement.
The U.S. Attorney's Office in Los Angeles has agreed to not prosecute the company “if Exide is in full compliance with the material obligations under this agreement.”
The lead in batteries is the environmental concern of area residents, but the battery containers and covers are made of plastic. Most automotive battery containers and covers, according to the Battery Council International trade group, are made from polypropylene.
Spent batteries are crushed in a hammermill, with broken plastic separating from lead and heavy metals. The plastic is then recycled and typically made into new battery cases.
A typical lead-acid battery contains 60 to 80 percent recycled lead and plastic, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
At peak operations the facility handled 40,000 batteries a day, crushing them to separate the different parts — acid, lead and plastic.
“The plastic is rinsed, loaded into van trailers, and transported to an off-site facility for reprocessing into new, resin-coated plastic pellets which can be used to manufacture new lead-acid batteries and other consumer products,” the agreement reads.
Exide, which said it will not dispute any of the agreement's findings, admitted to illegal storage, disposal and shipment of hazardous waste.
“Exide admits that it knowingly and willfully caused the shipment of hazardous waste contaminated with lead and corrosive acid in leaking van trailers owned by Wiley Sanders Truck Line, Inc. and operated by Lutrel Trucking, Inc. and KW Plastics of California Inc. from the facility to Bakersfield, Calif., a significant number of times over the past two decades, in violation of federal law,” the agreement reads.
Plastic recycler KW Plastics of California is located in Bakersfield.
The federal government expects it will cost between $108 million and $133 million to close and clean up the facility and comply with federal orders. That includes closure and cleanup, including remediation in residential property, expected to cost $50 million.
Closure of the battery recycling facility — which will result in the loss of the recycling of the battery components, including plastic — is expected to cost Exide another $15 million to $38 million “on an annualized basis for the cost of metallic lead and case plastic that must otherwise be purchased from other market sources,” the agreement revealed.
Exide has spent about $35 million since 2010 on plant pollution control upgrades that will now be demolished and deconstructed due to the permanent closure. And there will be another $8 million to $10 million in other closure-related costs.
Exide also has agreed to pay for periodic blood lead and arsenic level testing for local residents.
“The people of Vernon and East Los Angeles are entitled to work, live and raise their children in a neighborhood where they do not fear that a polluter many have contaminated their air, ground and water,” said Acting U.S. Attorney Stephanie Yonekura said at a news conference.
Exide filed for U.S. Bankruptcy Court protection last year, and the U.S. Attorney's Office indicated that the non-prosecution agreement came as a result of possible liquidation of the firm.
“Negotiations with the bankrupt company revealed that even the threat of criminal prosecution would almost certainly force the liquidation of the company,” the U.S. Attorney's Office said in a statement.
The agreement opens the door to new funding for the company and ensures there will be cash available for the cleanup. Without the agreement, the company would cease to be viable and responsibility for the cleanup would go to governmental agencies, the federal government said.
“The closure of this facility is a victory for the residents of Vernon who have suffered from decades of toxic pollution,” said Jared Blumenfeld, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency regional administrator, in a statement.