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Quemetco rejects state plan for expanded lead testing

Quemetco in the City of Industry recycles 600 tons of lead from batteries each day. The battery recycler is pictured here on Wednesday, Nov. 18, 2015.
Maya Sugarman/KPCC
Quemetco in the City of Industry recycles 600 tons of lead from batteries each day.

The lead battery recycler Quemetco is refusing to implement a state regulatory agency's order to test for possible lead and other toxic contamination in a half-mile radius around the firm's City of Industry facility, challenging the scope and terms of the plan.

Besides calling on Quemetco to test within the half-mile radius, the Department of Toxic Substances Control says that area could expand depending on the results of the initial tests. The company has sent a letter to the state saying it should only have to test in a quarter-mile radius.

Quemetco is objecting to Toxic Substances Control's modifications to a testing plan the company had submitted in August; the firm says the state's new version of the plan needs further changes.

In the letter, dated Nov. 12 and sent to the state on Nov. 30, Quemetco argued that the state's plan is based on a flawed assumption: That any lead or other contamination in the expanded area comes from the battery recycler. The company maintains that freeway pollution and other factories also contaminate the area.

The firm said it would take eight months to test the more than 1,000 residential properties in the state's expanded area, and another four to six months to test the 99 commercial buildings in the zone. The state's plan also calls for taking more samples and submitting more of them for testing, requirements Quemetco rejected as excessive.

A spokesman for Toxic Substances Control said the firm's refusal to implement the plan is under review, and the agency will respond within a couple of weeks. Quemetco declined further comment on its letter. 

The dispute comes as the state continues its cleanup of lead contamination in the area around what had been Southern California's only other lead battery recycler, the old Exide plant in Vernon. There, the state has ordered the company to begin testing and cleanup in an expanded area that could include up to 10,000 homes. Crews have cleaned up the yards of nearly 200 homes closest to the former plant, which shut down in 2013.

In the City of Industry, Quemetco is still in operation and is battling the state on lead testing at the same time it's trying to renew its permit to handle hazardous waste and asking the South Coast Air Quality Management District to increase the amount of batteries it can recycle.

The company and the state have been going back and forth over testing and clean up for some time

Quemetco takes issue with other requirements in the state's plan. In addition to its criticism of the expanded sampling and testing requirements at homes and businesses, the firm said regulators are asking for too many samples to be taken from creeks and storm catch basins.

The recycler's letter said Toxic Substances Control is also imposing a too-low threshold for confirmatory lab tests of lead concentration in soil samples that have already been analyzed by an X-ray spectrometer.

One other issue the state and company disagree on regards the "fingerprinting" of the toxins.  This is a complex process of identifying certain chemical elements associated with lead smelting, such as antimony. It's being used in the testing around the Exide plant. Quemetco's letter said some studies have found that the technology involved is not foolproof, arguing that the firm shouldn't be held responsible for remediation based on those tests.