VERNON (CBSLA.com) — The embattled Exide battery recycling plant in Vernon will immediately and permanently shut down under an agreement made with the U.S. Attorney’s Office.
The agreement, reached Wednesday night, stated Exide Technologies, on South Indiana Street between East 26th Street and Bandini Boulevard, will close and pay millions for its clean-up to avoid prosecution.
Exide will have to set aside $38.6 million for the closure and clean-up of the 15-acre site and an additional $9 million for the cleanup of the soil around area homes.
The company also admitted, as part of the deal, that it illegally stored, shipped and disposed of hazardous waste.
Chief of the U.S. Attorney’s Environmental Crime section, Joseph Johns, the architect of the agreement, vowed Wednesday to prosecute if the company does not follow through on its end of the bargain.
“They’re on the hook to pay whatever it takes to clean that site up. And if they do not comply with that, within the next 10 years or during the 10-year period of this non-prosecution agreement, this non-prosecution agreement is null and void, they’ve admitted to the crimes and will be prosecuted,” Johns said.
The controversial plant has been cited multiple times by the community for violating air pollution and hazardous waste laws.
“The people of Vernon and East Los Angeles are entitled to work, live and raise their children in a neighborhood where they do not have to fear that a polluter may have contaminated their air, ground and water,” Acting U.S. Attorney Stephanie Yonekura said.
Local residents applauded the outcome.
“They’re going to come in and clean [the lead] up and remove the soil,” said resident Olivia Salazar, who has lived downwind from the plant for more than 40 years. “There’s a lot of kids here, a lot of newborns. You know, I’m happy.”
Exide also faces numerous lawsuits, including one that alleges a number of nearby residents died due to the pollution.
“Their lungs, bronchitis, asthma and every body is just coughing and sick,” neighbor John Visser said.
Los Angeles County Supervisor Hilda Solis also applauded the agreement saying, it was the “best outcome” for the health of the residents as well as the society.
“But this is not the end of the story. The plant may be closed for good, but the cleanup is just beginning,” she said in a statement. “We need to make sure we have the funds to restore homes to safety and to remove contaminated soil in our parks and other areas where lead and other toxins have accumulated. Displaced Exide workers must be trained and placed in new jobs.”
At its height, the plant, which has been idle for about a year, melted and recycled thousands of car batteries filled with lead and other toxins on a daily basis.
Sources tell CBS2/KCAL9 there will be a call for complete investigation into the role state regulators may have played in what some are predicting could be a superfund site, with a total clean-up cost that could exceed $200 million.
L.A. County Environmental Health Director Angelo Bellomo said the U.S. Attorney is to be “commended” for the outcome but voiced concerns about Exide’s willingness and ability to pay for the clean-up.
“Our county lawyers right now, and our strike team, is focused on whether there are going to be any gaps in terms of the necessary funding, and we are considering our legal options,” Bellomo said.
Monsignor John Moretta, a tireless advocate, also commended the U.S. Attorney on negotiating the deal.
“This is a breath of fresh air for our city, for our southeast Los Angeles. It’s a breath of really fresh air,” he said.