Source: Pasadena Star – News (CA), December 21, 2013
Posted on: http://envfpn.advisen.com
Quemetco Inc., a lead-acid battery recycler located near the residential communities of La Puente and Hacienda Heights, was ordered to perform an extensive health assessment after air quality inspectors found the plant was spewing elevated levels of arsenic into the air.
The company must reduce its cancer risk below 25 parts per million or face stricter controls, according to a letter from Elaine Chang, South Coast Air Quality Management District deputy executive officer to Scott Bevans of Quemetco Inc. dated Dec. 10.
The recent violation from the Industry-based plant comes on the heels of a SCAQMD order to Exide Technologies in Vernon to shut down operations unless toxic air emissions are dramatically reduced. The SCAQMD Hearing Board opened a hearing on the abatement order last week at Cal State Los Angeles. Hearings on the Exide plant have been continued to Jan. 7.
Exide and Quemetco are the only two battery recycling plants in Southern California, according to the SCAQMD.
Exide takes car and marine batteries made of lead and acid and takes them apart. The materials are tossed into a smelter where lead ingots are produced and either sold, or used to make new vehicle batteries. Exide’s operation recycles between 23,000 and 41,000 automobile batteries a day, according to the SCAQMD.
Quemetco has had its problems with the air pollution agency, racking up five violations from the SCAQMD since 2005.
However, it plans to fully comply with the air district’s order, said Chris Bryant, Washington D.C.-based attorney for Quemetco and its parent company, RSR Corp.
“The company will be reconducting a health risk assessment to assuage any concerns the AQMD may have about the arsenic emissions,” Bryant said Friday. The Industry plant is located at 720 S. 7th Ave., near Salt Lake Avenue.
Quemetco is a lead smelting company and is part of RSR, which operates other lead smelters, including plants in Indiana and New York. The 2011 Toxic Release Inventory from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency ranked the company as the sixth largest emitter of toxic emissions in California. In Southern California, it trailed only Chevron Products in El Segundo. Quemetco released 1,576,634 pounds of toxics in 2011, the report says.
Lead smelting involves heating up the mixture and using chemicals to free the element. This produces toxic byproducts, including inorganic arsenic, a carcinogen that is “strongly associated” with lung cancer if inhaled, and bladder, liver and skin cancer if ingested, according to the EPA.
SCAQMD inspectors checked the smokestacks on Nov. 22 and found arsenic emissions had increased since the last source test, said Sam Atwood, a spokesman for the four-county anti-smog agency. Atwood declined to say how large of an increase.
“But it had increased enough that we felt they were going to exceed thresholds in our Rule 1401 of a 10 in 1 million cancer risk, that’s the threshold for notifying the public,” he said.
If the company’s new health risk assessment shows a cancer risk for arsenic of 25 in 1 million or higher, it will be subject to additional emission controls, he said.
The company has until May to complete the new health risk assessment. Atwood said the SCAQMD did not have any indication the company would not comply with the requirement, which originated in 1987 under what’s known as the state toxic hot spots law. “We’re confident their concerns will be alleviated,” Bryant said.
Quemetco will have a greater chance at compliance because it has been using a Wet Electrostatic Precipitator, advanced emissions control technology, and Exide does not, Atwood said. Bryant said the device has been in operation at the Industry plant for at least four years.
Nonetheless, the SCAQMD is preparing a new rule that will lower the cap on emissions of arsenic, as well as benzene and 1,3- butadiene, for all battery recycling plants in the South Coast Air Basin. The SCAQMD Governing Board will consider the amended Rule 1420.1 on Jan. 10, Atwood said.