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Vernon battery recycler again in trouble over lead emissions

A Vernon battery recycler under fire for contaminating nearby homes with lead and threatening the health of more than 100,000 people with its arsenic emissions is in trouble once again for emitting more than the permitted level of lead, according to the South Coast Air Quality Management District.

As a result, the agency will order Exide to curtail its operations by 15%.

On March 22 and 23, an air monitor on the northeast side of the Exide Technologies plant, near the Los Angeles River, picked up lead levels that were high enough to cause the outdoor air concentration to exceed 0.15 micrograms per cubic meter based on a 30-day average — a violation of rules designed to protect public health.

A notice posted on the air district's website also said that lead levels on several other days had "exceeded 0.15 micrograms by significant amounts."

The plant was not operating at the time, but the company may have stirred up dust while making repairs, according to the notice.

Community members — who have been urging regulators to close the plant permanently ever since it was revealed last year that its arsenic emissions posed an increased cancer risk — expressed fury.

"I don't know what to do. I'm just as frustrated as anybody," said Msgr. John Moretta, pastor at Resurrection Catholic Church in Boyle Heights. His parishioners have been pushing regulators to do more to protect public health. "Why aren't they shut down?"

In a statement, Exide officials said they were working with the air district to confirm the cause of the high lead reading. "It appears to be a construction-related incident as the plant is undergoing maintenance and upgrade," said plant manager John Hogarth.

The latest trouble comes less than two weeks after state officials revealed soil tests had found elevated levels of lead in the yards of homes north and south of the plant, as well as at a park near a preschool in Boyle Heights.

Exide officials now are working with the state Department of Toxic Substances Control on the testing of homes in more neighborhoods. On April 7, the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health will begin offering free blood tests screening for lead.

Toxics officials on Friday released a statement saying they were "very concerned" about the latest findings. "We're working with AQMD to identify the source of the emissions, and we expect Exide to fully and immediately comply with the district's directive," they said.

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