October 7, 2021: NL Industries has filed a lawsuit in California blaming the lead contamination around the former Exide Technologies lead battery recycling plant on a host of other parties.*
The lawsuit targets dozens of potential industrial sources of lead contamination, such as the nearby Exxon Mobil refinery, which once produced leaded petrol.
“The California Department of Toxic Substances Control knows that the former Exide Technologies property in Vernon, California is not the reason there is or was soil lead above 80 milligrams per kilogram in some portion of residential neighborhoods,” says the introduction to the lawsuit.
“Extensive testing and analysis by the DTSC and others already have proven, beyond any doubt, that the DTSC’s 80mg/kg clean-up level for these neighborhoods is well below the ‘background’ lead level that would exist in these neighborhoods, even if the alleged activities at the former Exide property had never happened.”
The document says the primary source of soil lead in residential soils is residue from historic leaded gas emissions, as well as airborne gasoline from the many planes flying in the Los Angeles area.
Lead, historically, was also widely used on residential lawns in pesticides known as lead arsenate, which was 60% lead, ‘to control crabgrass, caterpillars, grubs and moths’, the document says.
“Property owners following the recommendations of the Los Angeles Times added pounds of lead directly to their lawns with each application, and then washed the lead into the soil for control of insects and crabgrass,” the document says.
Exterior leaded paint is also mentioned.
The court document says the DTSC itself had admitted it expected the levels of lead to be several times higher than was discovered, even without Vernon existing.
The document says the lawsuit filed by the DTSC attempted to shift 100% of the clean-up costs to NL Industries and the other parties associated with the property — when ‘the conduct and the other parties targeted by DTSC, even taken together, did not cause the need for any clean-up on the properties.”
News of the court action was met with horror by local news outlets, including City Watch LA, which said Exide had been sued last year by the state “for its role as an owner and operator during the 1970s of a notoriously dirty lead-acid battery recycling facility in Vernon.”
It claims the ‘largely low income Latino neighborhoods’ lack the resources to stage an adequate legal defence.
Exide filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy last year and was seen by many as effectively walking away from the clean-up costs it had been ordered to pay.
*An earlier version of this story mistakenly stated that various other companies including Quemetco had also filed the counterclaim. We apologise and regret the error.