LOS ANGELES, Calif. — The Los Angeles City Council voted unanimously today to back an investigation into why a Vernon battery recycling plant cited for arsenic pollution was allowed to operate without a full permit for more than 30 years.

The resolution by Councilman Jose Huizar calls on state lawmakers and agencies to apply “stringent” standards before allowing Exide Technologies to resume operations. In April, the Department of Toxic Substances Control ordered the plant to cease operations.

The council also voted to in favor of Exide remedying the pollution by upgrading wastewater pipes that the state toxic control agency alleged were leaking arsenic.

No one with Exide Technologies in Vernon was available for comment today.

A month before the state agency ordered Exide to cease operations, the South Coast Air Quality District cited the company for discharging arsenic, affecting nearby businesses, as well as neighboring communities in Maywood and Huntington Park.

Boyle Heights is part of Huizar’s council district and within an area of about 110,000 residents that could have been affected by arsenic pollution.

“Exide is adding toxic air pollution to Boyle Heights, in an area that already has unacceptable levels of air pollution,” Huizar said in April.

Huizar said he was not satisfied with the state agency’s handling of Exide’s permitting process over the years.

“I do question why the company was allowed to operate with an interim permit,” he said.

The battery recycling plant has been operating under a temporary DTSC permit for the past 32 years and is the only facility left in the state that has not been fully permitted, the agency’s spokesman Jim Marxen told City News Service.

An effort was made in 2002 to bring the plant up to industry standards so that it could qualify for a full permit, but that process was stalled in 2006, Marxen said, adding that public hearings were held at the time.

A renewed effort was made to get the company into compliance in 2011 when Gov. Jerry Brown appointed Debbie Raphael as the new DTSC director, he said.

The latest order to shut the battery plant came as the permitting process started up again, but “it just got to a point where problems were at a level where it was an unacceptable risk” for the company to continue
operating, Marxen said.

Assembly Speaker John Perez, whose district includes Vernon, had also been pressuring the toxic control agency to bring about a “rapid resolution” to arsenic emissions at Exide, calling it “one more chapter in this terrible story of ongoing pollution and malfeasance.”

The plant recycles about 22 million automotive batteries a year and has been operating in Vernon since the 1920s. Exide, a publicly traded company with operations in 80 countries, took it over about 10 years ago.