Toxins in Vernon

There is an essential element that is not under dispute in the case of the lead-acid battery recycling plant located in the city of Vernon: an analysis by the company itself found a higher risk of cancer in the environment due to the emissions of noxious substances into the air. However, in urban and industrial areas like Vernon, where there are so many toxins in the environment from industrial sites and dense traffic, it is hard to directly link specific cases of disease to one particular company.

Or at least that is the argument being used to defend the Exide recycling plant. The state of California shuttered the plant last April, citing high emissions of arsenic into the air and soil near the plant, which endanger the health of 110,000 residents living in the area from Boyle Heights to Maywood and Huntington Park.

The state ordered an evaluation of the problem and hearings to determine the plant’s future. However, a Superior Court judge ruled that the state had insufficient evidence to justify economic losses for the company and its 130 employees. And the plant reopened before the evaluations to address the complaints of California’s Department of Toxic Substances Control were finished.

Exide operates in more than 80 countries and has a history of environmental violations in several of them. In fact, since 2010, seven Exide plants around the country have been identified as emitting excessive amounts of lead. Another two plants, besides the one in Vernon, have been shut down.

Recycling batteries is positive and better than the alternative—not recycling and discarding toxic materials in landfills. However, we are concerned that the potential danger to the health of the surrounding community does not have, in the eyes of the judge who made the decision to reopen the plant, the same priority as the company’s pockets. In our opinion, the plant should remain closed while the alternatives needed to make its operations safer are analyzed in depth.