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State, Quemetco strike compromise over 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.

State regulators and lead battery recycler Quemetco have struck a deal to resolve a disagreement over the scope of a plan to test for possible toxic contamination of soil in the area around the firm's City of Industry facility.

Quemetco submitted a plan to the Department of Toxic Substances Control last summer for sampling in a quarter-mile radius around its plant at 720 S. Seventh Street. The state then modified the plan, extending the testing area to a half-mile radius. Last month the company pushed back, saying a quarter-mile should be sufficient.

According to the Department, the two sides met and struck a deal; the agency sent Quemetco a letter last Friday confirming the existing work plan.

The compromise: Quemetco can start by testing the soil in the smaller, quarter-mile area. The state will review the results, and if high lead concentrations are found and tied to Quemetco, the company will have to continue sampling out to the half-mile mark or farther.

Quemetco's Regulatory Consultant Christopher Bryant said in an email the firm will begin the sampling process, but he did not specify when it would begin.

Dot Lofstrum is a division chief at Toxic Substances Control and is overseeing the Quemetco process. She  said in the end, the size of the area to be tested isn't important.

"The point is we are requiring them to delineate the lead contamination until they have proven to us that it hasn't gone any further," she said.

In the letter the company sent to the agency on Nov. 30 rejecting the expanded radius, it also took issue with several other requirements, including the number of samples it must collect and how many have to be tested.

The state did not budge on those points.

Quemetco also questioned the reliability of fingerprint technology, a process that determines where the lead contamination originated.

On that issue, the state did allow the company a bit of room - it gave Quemetco until next month to finalize its fingerprinting technology, Lofstrum said.

"It’s critical we understand the source of the lead that we find in any soil," she said. "This fingerprinting analysis will allow us to trace back to the facility and ensure that they take responsibility for the cleanup."

Quemetco consultant Bryant said the company  expects to be able to meet the state's January deadline to settle on how it will fingerprint any lead that is found.

This is the latest in a saga between Quemetco and the state agency that goes back decades. It is the second lead battery recycler in the region ordered to test soil for lead. The other, Exide in Vernon, was shut down by the state in 2013 and is in the process of testing and cleaning up what could be as many as 10,000 homes.

This story was corrected on Dec. 16, 2015 to reflect that Christopher Bryant is working for Quemetco as a regulatory consultant, not as its attorney.