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EPA Claims Exide Battery Recycling Plant Has Repeatedly Violated Lead Emission Standards

VERNON ( — Officials announced Thursday that the Exide battery recycling plant in Vernon has emitted risky levels of lead into the air, violating federal limits and endangering nearby residents' health.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency found the facility surpassed federal Clean Air Act standards on more than 30 instances, between September 2013 and April 2014.

"EPA and the South Coast Air Quality Management District are working closely to ensure the company comes into compliance with state and federal law," according to Jared Blumenfield, EPA regional administrator for the Pacific Southwest.

Exide could face penalties of $37,500 per day for each violation, according to the EPA.

Officials with Exide noted that the plant has been out of operation since March to undergo a series of upgrades.

"For the last several months, Exide has been working to upgrade its Vernon facility and ensure that the recycling plant can operate in a way that protects the health and safety of the local community," according to E.N. "Bud" DeSart, senior director of commercial operations for the Exide recycling group. "The company is dedicated to investing the time and money needed to improve the Vernon facility so it can resume recycling more than 9 million batteries per year while complying with the strictest emission standards in the nation."

The plant has come under scrutiny this past year after testing found elevated levels of lead in the yards of 39 homes near the plant.

The facility was forced to temporarily shut down last year due to arsenic emissions, and the AQMD sued the company in January alleging numerous air quality violations.

Exide's plant has been operating under a temporary permit from the state Department of Toxic Substances Control for the past 32 years and is the only facility left in the state that has not been fully permitted, DTSC officials said last year.

In operation since 1922, the plant recycles 23,000 to 41,000 batteries daily. The firm at 2700 S. Indiana St. is one of only two lead-acid battery recycling plants west of the Rockies.

Exide officials have blamed some of the elevated emissions recently on construction work to install upgraded equipment. The company has agreed to invest more than $5 million in the plant over the next two years, bringing the firm's total investment to more than $20 million since 2010, and reducing arsenic emissions by 95 percent.

(©2014 CBS Local Media, a division of CBS Radio Inc. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. Wire services contributed to this report.)

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