BOYLE HEIGHTS (CBSLA.com) — Residents at a town hall meeting Tuesday called for the closure of a controversial battery recycling plant that state agencies charge has spread hazardous pollution into the air and groundwater.
The Vernon-based Exide Technologies was shut down earlier this year by the State Department of Toxic Substances Control before a court overruled and allowed the plant to reopen. The decision left some state air quality officials frustrated by the difficulty in dealing with the facility.
State officials who came to answer public questions found themselves under attack at the town hall meeting, which ran more than three hours long.
Representatives from the South Coast Air Quality Management District (AQMD) and the Department of Toxic Substances Control faced heated questions from the audience and from State Senator Kevin de Leon.
“Do we have to move forward with state legislation that has clear, sharp teeth to shut them down?” de Leon asked.
The crowd at the meeting demonstrated their anger by wearing gas masks and posting signs that read “Exide Must Die” to make it clear they want the plant closed because of excessive amounts of lead and arsenic pollution that many say have caused serious health problems.
“Frankly it is an embarrassment that with all the scrutiny from you, the media and being on the front page of the paper practically every other week, that this plant is not able to operate within the rules and regulations,” said Barry Wallerstein, Executive Officer of the AQMD.
The director of the California Department of Toxic Substances Control tried repeatedly to reassure local residents the plant will be shut down if it continues to endanger the health and safety of the estimated 250,000 people who live in the affected area.
“This company is under a microscope,” said Director Deborah Raphael. “We will be continuing to monitor, work with our colleagues at the AQMD, and if we can declare that if we find levels that meet that standard, that imminent and substantial danger, then we can shut them down immediately.”
On Monday, the Department of Toxic Substances Control announced a $7.7 million agreement with Exide that means the state will drop its effort to temporarily close the plant.
Under the agreement, Exide has agreed to install new controls for arsenic, to repair leaky pipes, and to test the dirt and soil around the plant. The company will also pay for blood testing for those living in the affected area.