VERNON (CBSLA.com) —The state issued an emergency order forcing a recycling plant in Vernon to shut down after tests show it may have poisoned groundwater and released dangerous levels of arsenic in the air.
The state Department of Toxic Substances issued the order against the Exide facility on 2700 South Indiana Street, citing air and ground pollution violations for arsenic and lead. Exide operates in 80 countries and is one of the world’s biggest producers, distributors and recyclers of lead-acid batteries.
A video released by the Department shows a damaged discharge pipeline at the facility reportedly pumping arsenic-filled water directly into the ground. Lead is also a byproduct of the melting process used in recycling car batteries, but the hazardous products are supposed to be safely removed and recycled before they show up in the air and water.
Sam Atwood, an official with the Air Quality Management District, said the facility in Vernon was causing relatively high cancer risk to more than 100,000 residents in an area that includes Maywood, Huntington Park, Commerce and Boyle Heights.
“This facility was found to have the highest cancer risk of any facility that we have studied over the 25 years of the program,” Atwood said.
The facility has been the target of complaints for years, according to elected officials. In March, officials with the South Coast Air Quality Management District (AQMD) said that Exide Technologies may have exposed more than 100,000 residents to arsenic emissions from the battery disposal.
Local residents say they feel the effects of the winds blowing from neighboring industrial areas.
“When the air comes like that so hard it makes me get sick,” said Maywood resident Robert Guerrero. Guerrero, who is epileptic, said hs wife also suffers from respiratory illness made worse by the winds from Vernon.
“When its not done safely, when its not done properly, when you emit arsenic into the environment you are emitting a poison,” State Senator Kevin de Leon said. “And when the winds blow, young children breathe it into their lungs.”
Senator de Leon wants the legislature to investigate why it took so long to address concerns over the plant.
“When you don’t have a department, a bureaucracy, in Sacramento whose main mission is to protect the environment and to protect families from these types of facilities then something is really wrong,” de Leon said.
The order comes after the California EPA released a report this week naming the most polluted cities, with Vernon ranking fourth in the state.