Sierra Club Opposes Expansion of the Quemetco Lead-Acid Battery Recycling Plant

  • Posted on 2 January 2019
  • By Joan Licari, San Gabriel Valley Task Force

The San Gabriel Valley Task Force of Angeles Chapter, the Clean Air Coalition of North Whittier and Avocado Heights (CAC) with the Hacienda Heights Improvement Association (HHIA) have formed a coalition with residents to oppose expansion of the Quemetco lead/acid battery recycling plant in the City of Industry.  Residents are concerned about health impacts of past and present emissions of lead and arsenic from the facility.

Since closure of Exide, the Quemetco is the only lead/acid battery recycling plant operating in the United States west of the Rocky Mountains.  Quemetco recycles lead from used batteries and other lead-bearing scrap from the U.S. and foreign countries. The company is currently requesting two permits—an extension to operate for another ten years from the California Department of Toxic Substances Control (DTSC) and a modification of permit from the South Coast Air Quality Management District (SCAQMD) to increase production from 20 to 24 hours with an increase in output by 25%.  

Residents in Hacienda Heights and North Whittier are opposing the expansion.  Many would like to see the facility shut down permanently. SCAQMD published a Notice of Preparation of Preparation of a Draft Environmental Impact Report and Initial Study with the comment period beginning on Aug. 31, 2018 and ending October 2th.

Residents, some living within 600 feet of the plant, are concerned about potential health risks from lead, arsenic, cadmium and antimony--emissions commonly associated with such facilities that may have escaped to contaminate their homes, schools and parks nearby. Residents had commissioned soil tests in 2001.  High soil levels were detected but no action was taken.

Currently controversy swirls around DTSC over lead contamination in soils.  In 2016 DTSC conducted a soil sampling program in the rights-of-ways, residential and commercial areas within a quarter mile of the Quemetco battery-recycling.  Tests were completed two years ago. A public meeting is now scheduled on Dec. 18th to reveal the results.

An independent study of lead concentration in children (ages to 17) is being conducted by KECK/USC.  Analysis of children’s lead levels in toenails and urine have not been concluded. There is no known safe level for exposure to lead.  Arsenic, a known cancer-causing agent is another concern.

Angeles Chapter continues opposition to expansion of this plant and has submitted comments about environmental and social justice issues needed to be addressed in the DEIR.  We are awaiting DTSC soil test results, lead levels detected in the USC/Children’s study, and tests to determine the sources (fingerprinting) of lead found in sampling.

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