Exide Technologies plans to invest more than $7 million over the next two years to upgrade its Vernon battery recycling facility as part of a comprehensive agreement with the California Department of Toxic Substances Control (DTSC).
The capital investments are designed to improve the Vernon plant’s compliance with environmental standards and reduce air emission levels well below regulatory health risk thresholds. The planned expenditures will bring Exide’s total investment in environmental upgrades at the Vernon plant to more than $18 million since 2008.
“We continue to strive to make our Vernon plant a premier recycling facility and consider the health and safety of the community and our workforce a top priority,” said Robert M. Caruso, president and chief executive for Exide. “Exide has taken aggressive steps to install new equipment at the plant and those efforts have paid off in substantially reducing emissions.”
Under the agreement, Exide will replace on-site underground storm-water piping with a more advanced double-walled system at a cost of more than $4 million. The company has expedited construction, which is well underway and is expected to be completed by year end.
Exide will begin installing additional high-efficiency filters to reduce emissions and later, a separate device to cut organic emissions. Exide began furnace modifications early this year to reduce arsenic emissions. Preliminary tests in April showed arsenic levels below regulatory health risk thresholds. When the remaining installation is completed next summer, at a cost of more than $2.5 million, emissions are expected to be further reduced to a theoretical cancer risk of less than half the level allowed by the South Coast California Air Quality Management District (AQMD).
“We are one of the best employers in the community and we plan to keep it that way,” said John Hogarth, Exide’s plant manager in Vernon. “Our average employee has been with us for more than 20 years, and many are the second generation in their families to work at the plant.”
As part of its community outreach efforts, Exide has agreed to fund a program in cooperation with the Los Angeles County Health Department that will offer voluntary blood testing to residents of Vernon and other neighborhoods of Southeast Los Angeles.
Exide also has begun testing soil and surface dust in the industrial neighborhood around the plant for lead, arsenic and other metals to determine whether there is any health risk.
The company will continue to work cooperatively with state and local officials and representatives of surrounding communities on these projects and will set up a separate financial account to fund them.
The agreement between Exide and DTSC resolves issues stemming from a suspension order in April 2013 that shut down the Vernon plant for more than seven weeks. The facility resumed operations in late June after obtaining a preliminary injunction ruling in its favor from a Los Angeles Superior Court.
While the agreement is subject to approval of the court in Exide’s bankruptcy case, the Company is implementing many of the remedial measures prior to bankruptcy court approval.
Of the Vernon facility’s 100 hourly employees represented by the United Steelworks Union, all 60 of them who were furloughed during the shutdown have returned to work.
The Vernon plant is one of two battery recycling facilities west of the Rockies. It recycles approximately 25,000 lead-acid batteries daily and 8 million a year.