February 25, 2021: Four Californian state legislators on February 18 introduced a bill that would approve more than $540 million of taxpayers’ money to be spent on cleaning up 10,000 homes around the contaminated Vernon lead battery recycling plant once owned by Exide Technologies.
If the bill is passed into law, the Department of Toxic Substances Control will set performance milestones that will have to be published every six months to track progress, and use fixed-price contracting for corrective actions.
The $540.4 million is broken down into $390 million for the clean-up of 4,600 less contaminated residential properties, while $31.4 million will go to clean up the 3,200 properties identified by the DTSC as those most in need of work, with priority given to childcare facilities, schools and parks. The remaining $119 million will ‘be expended by the department for future closure and onsite corrective action at the facility to complete all phases of the closure plan for that facility’, the bill reads.
The bill, while necessary, has angered senators, who believe that Exide has simply abandoned its responsibility for the clean-up operation, having gone out of business in May 2020 when the American side was split from the EMEA part of the business and later sold off to Atlas Holdings at auction. The bankruptcy court effectively allowed it to walk away, they say.
The company was reborn last August as Stryten Manufacturing, with Element Resources a separate recycling arm.
Exide has always disputed that it was solely responsible for the lead contamination in the soil around the facility, citing aviation fuel, automobile gas and house paint as contributing to the levels.
In 2015 it drew up a closure plan with the US Department of Justice, which in return agreed not to prosecute the company.
When the company entered Chapter 11 bankruptcy proceedings for the third and final time last year it seemed the game was up in terms of getting Exide to pay for the clean-up, but in January the DTSC issued a writ against Exide and other companies that had used the facility, including Clarios, Quemetco and Trojan Battery, for reimbursement.
“The state continues to hold Exide Technologies LLC accountable by appealing the bankruptcy court’s recent order that allows Exide to walk away from its obligations,” the DTSC told Batteries International.
“Additionally, DTSC is working with California’s Office of the Attorney General to hold accountable additional parties responsible for contamination caused by operations at the Vernon facility by filing suit against former owners and operators of the facility and several entities that sent or transported large quantities of hazardous substances to the facility.”