Amid an outcry over arsenic emissions from a Vernon battery recycler, the South Coast Air Quality Management District is now raising concerns about emissions from the other battery recycler in Southern California.
Officials with the air district earlier this month ordered City of Industry-based Quemetco, one of two battery recyclers west of the Rocky Mountains, to perform a health risk study of its operations after a source test in November showed elevated arsenic emissions.
The issue at Quemetco comes amid a fierce public outcry over emissions from Exide Technologies in Vernon.
Air district officials released a health risk assessment earlier this year that found that emissions from Exide were posing an elevated cancer risk to 110,000 people because of arsenic. The plant has also been cited several times in recent years for exceeding permissible levels of lead.
This fall, the air district petitioned its hearing board to temporarily shut down Exide until the recycler can control its emissions. Exide has contested the petition and argued that arsenic emissions have plummeted.
Exide's emission troubles have outraged elected officials and residents in southeast Los Angeles County, who have pushed regulators to take forceful action.
In numerous public meetings this summer and fall, officials and residents have also urged that Exide be forced to adopt the same anti-pollution technology as Quemetco, which uses a so-called Wet Electrostatic Precipitator system that officials believed dramatically reduced emissions.
"Quemetco has been held up by the district as how a responsible company is supposed to operate. If they can't meet the arsenic standards, you have to question whether either of these companies should be allowed to continue to operate," said David Pettit, a senior attorney for the Natural Resources Defense Council.
The health risks of Quemetco's emissions won't be known for some time. The company has 150 days to submit the health risk assessment, and the state Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment then has several months to review it.
In a statement, John A. De Paul, Quemetco's senior vice president, said the company will "comply fully with the requirement to conduct a health risk assessment for the facility. Quemetco is confident that the results of that assessment will satisfy any concerns AQMD may have regarding emissions from the facility."
He added that the company supports the air district "in their ongoing effort to lower emissions of hazardous air pollutants."