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New law turns up heat on troubled Exide plant in Vernon

State officials suspended operations at the Exide Technologies in Vernon, Calif. in April due to emissions of arsenic that could pose a health risk to 110,000 people in nearby communities. The plant is now reopened.
Mae Ryan/KPCC
Exide Technologies in Vernon, Calif.

An embattled lead battery recycling plant in Vernon has operated for decades on a temporary permit, but a law signed by Governor Brown has set a deadline for the Department of Toxic Substances Control to make a decision on whether to issue a final permit to Exide Technologies.

The bill by Senator Ricardo Lara requires that the DTSC make its decision by December 31, 2015. 

Community organizers said they were hoping that the deadline would be earlier but were still glad one had been set.

”It’s longer than we hoped for, but given that it’s been decades in the making, it’s at least a deadline that we can see,” said Maya Golden-Krasner, a staff attorney for Communities for a Better Environment. 

It's unclear what steps would be necessary for the plant to receive a final permit. Exide denied a request for comment, and a DTSC spokesperson said no representatives from his agency were available to speak. 

Exide Technologies took over operations at the plant in 2000 and applied for a full permit in 2006, but its application has had several problems because it hasn't adequately addressed required lead cleanup. 

The plant halted operations in March while it worked to upgrade pollution controls at the site and has remained inoperative since then. 

The company has agreed to orders of abatement with the South Coast Air Quality Management District, designed to limit toxic air pollution from the site. 

Golden-Krasner said her organization hopes that the plant will remain closed. 

“Our members hope that the decision will be that they should not be operating — that they cannot comply with environmental laws," Golden-Krasner said. "They have not so far been able to comply with environmental laws.”