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Plant Allowed To Reopen Following Allegedly Unsafe Arsenic Emissions

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VERNON (CBSLA.com) — A battery recycling business has reopened after state officials shut it down for allegedly emitting unsafe levels of arsenic.

Exide Technologies operated for decades on a temporary permit before being deemed a public health hazard by the California Department of Toxic Substance Control.

DTSC officials said the plant’s arsenic levels were endangering the public health in Vernon, Boyle Heights, Huntington Park and Maywood. They claimed the levels of airborne arsenic coming from the plant far exceeded acceptable limits and would be expected to increase cases of cancer in surrounding communities.

The plant was ordered to suspend operations in April.

“The fact that they had been able to emit so many dangerous toxins into the air – lead, arsenic – for so many years and, quite frankly, gotten away with it speaks volumes about the regulatory body that was supposed to be overseeing them,” state Sen. Kevin de Leon said.

A month before the DTSC ordered Exide to cease operations, the South Coast Air Quality Management District also cited the company for discharging arsenic.

But a judge signed an order Monday permitting the plant to reopen for two weeks, according to an attorney for Exide.

Exide filed for bankruptcy last week — something the company has done before — and they argued it was unfair to order them to shut down while they’re undergoing financial troubles.

Monsignor John Moretta of Resurrection Catholic Church organized a community meeting Monday night where outraged residents voiced their concerns.

“For a judge to simply say they can go on with business as usual. We as a community feel very insulted by that. The community had no input about the testimony, the community had no say in this,” Moretta said.

“They were going to be 156 times over the level allowable. Why was there even a hearing about that? They should just be shut down, period,” a man at the meeting said.

Several local residents say they’ve been hit hard by cancer and respiratory illnesses.

“My brother has cancer, and he worked in Vernon for years. He’s 50 years old,” said Boyle Heights resident Teresa Marquez. “My grandkids had respiratory problems until they moved out. My brother still lives here. I have respiratory problems.”

DTSC will return to court July 2 to try to gain a preliminary injunction to resume its suspension of Exide, DTSC’s Tamma Adamek said.

“We are disappointed that the Superior Court granted Exide’s application for a temporary restraining order,” Adamek said.

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