Exide plant in Vernon. Photo by Art Torres
The industrial practices of Exide Technologies, a battery recycling plant bordering Boyle Heights, have elicited community-wide concern after regulators found it to be releasing dangerous contaminants into the soil and air.
Below is a timeline of events surrounding this story:
The South Coast Air Quality Management District (AQMD) ordered the Vernon facility to provide a “risk reduction plan” after recent assessments showed that the company’s arsenic emissions create a significant cancer risk to plant workers and a lesser risk to more than 100,000 residents of Boyle Heights, Maywood, Huntington Park, Commerce, Vernon and some areas of East L.A. Arsenic exposure can damage organs and even cause death.
Los Angeles City Council members express serious concern and call upon the city attorney to look into possible legal action against Exide.
The California Department of Toxic Substances Control ordered the company to shut down on April 24 for continuously leaking hazardous metals from wastewater pipes and posing an “unacceptable” public health risk.
More than 200 concerned residents and workers packed a public meeting on these issues on June 4 at Resurrection Catholic Church in Boyle Heights, meeting with South Coast AQMD and Exide officials to express their views.
Two months after the shutdown, on June 10, Exide filed for bankruptcy and challenged the closure in court, denying that it releases harmful emissions.
Just one week later, a Los Angeles County Superior Court judge allowed the company to reopen, pending a court hearing before him on the issues. The judge found that the public interest would not suffer if Exide continues operations and that the company could endure irreparable harm from further delays to its business operations.
On July 2, the California Department of Toxic Substances Control will appeal the court’s decision to allow Exide to reopen.
Read some of the concerns shared by community members and workers at the June 4 meeting in Boyle Heights below:
Father John Moretta, Resurrection Catholic Church in Boyle Heights
“Well, how do we know they’re [Exide] honest? How do we know these are correct statistics? As somebody from your office said to me, ‘The penalty for not telling the truth is so unthinkable that they would not think of giving false information.’ So we’re holding them to that.”
Nicki Vazquez, daughter of an Exide worker
“My father works for Exide. He’s been employed at Exide for 27 respected years. He’s currently putting me through college. My dad is a healthy young man and Exide does a profound job taking care of him. Thus giving him the capability of taking care of my mother and brother and they’re all healthy.”
Alan Avila, 10 years old, Boyle Heights resident
“I have asthma problems. I just want that plant to close down ‘cause I want to live a normal life. I’m sorry for the people that lost their jobs, but I just want to live my life.”
David W. Campbell, Secretary-Treasurer, United Steel Workers Local 675
“I want to emphasize to the community that the union is different than the company. We fight for justice, and sometimes we fight against the company and sometimes we agree with them, but that’s the collective bargaining process. First, I want to acknowledge that the community has every right to be concerned to express their fear and their anger about the incident, which has caused this HRA (Health Risk Assessment) to be released. We also agree that the health and safety and the environment of the public are parallel to the needs of the workers.”
Gus Ugalde and Ericka Ochoa contributed to this story.
All photos by Andrew Roman