Lead-Acid Battery Recycling Facility Must Notify Public, Reduce Public Health Risk

May 17, 2016

South Coast Air Quality Management District officials today formally notified Quemetco, Inc., that it must reduce its cancer risk to residents by ensuring lower arsenic emissions, a byproduct of the facility’s lead smelting operations.  Within 30 days, Quemetco must notify about 12,000 residents near its City of Industry facility of the risk.

“Quemetco has already reduced its emissions during recent years,” said Kurt Wiese, general counsel for the South Coast Air Quality Management District. “The steps that Quemetco must take to ensure even lower emissions will benefit public health, particularly for residents living near the facility.”

Quemetco, located at 720 S. 7th Ave. in the City of Industry, recycles lead-acid batteries in its lead smelter.  Residents in portions of Avocado Heights, City of Industry, La Puente and Hacienda Heights will be notified of the health risk and an upcoming public meeting conducted by SCAQMD where the risk will be discussed. The meeting will take place in the next one to two months in the community near the facility. For more information on the facility see SCAQMD’s web page at www.aqmd.gov/home/regulations/compliance/toxic-hot-spots-ab-2588/quemetco.

 In 2013, SCAQMD required Quemetco to conduct a detailed study of its emissions and health risk called a health risk assessment (HRA) under the state’s Air Toxics Hot Spots law, also known as AB2588.

In March 2015, the state’s health risk agency updated its cancer risk guidelines resulting in a five-fold increase in the calculated risk from arsenic for the same exposure level. The updated guidelines, approved by the state Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment (OEHHA), resulted from an extensive review showing that previous protocols had underestimated cancer risk primarily due to the increased susceptibility of infants and children to air toxics.  In June 2015, SCAQMD began implementation of the new state guidelines as required by law.

The higher cancer risk for arsenic increased Quemetco’s risk above SCAQMD’s regulatory risk thresholds and triggered requirements for both public notification and risk reduction.

Quemetco now has 180 days to develop a risk reduction plan showing how it will ensure a reduction in risk below required thresholds. Once approved by SCAQMD, Quemetco must achieve the risk reduction as quickly as possible, but no later than three years after the risk reduction plan is approved.

Based on its 2014 emissions, Quemetco’s HRA showed that it posed a cancer burden of 0.66 excess cancer cases primarily due to arsenic emissions. Under SCAQMD’s Rule 1402 the facility must reduce its cancer burden to 0.5 or less. A cancer burden is a calculation of the number of total people estimated to get cancer due to a facility’s emissions over several decades.

Quemetco has also applied to SCAQMD for permits to increase its production by 25 percent and switch the fuel used in its furnaces from calcined coke to petroleum coke, also known as “pet coke.” However in order to receive these permits the company would have to demonstrate that the increased production and alternative fuel would not exceed any of the agency’s risk thresholds. SCAQMD will be initiating a public process later this year to develop an Environmental Impact Report on the proposed production increase and fuel change.

SCAQMD’s Rule 1420.1 – Emissions Standard for Lead from Large Lead-Acid Battery Recycling Facilities has imposed strict controls for lead, arsenic and other toxic air contaminants including benzene and 1,3 butadiene at lead-acid battery recycling facilities.  Since adoption of Rule 1420.1 in 2010, and through subsequent amendments to the rule, both the ambient and point source lead limits have been tightened by more than 90 percent.

SCAQMD is closely coordinating its activities with other environmental agencies conducting environmental assessments and remediation, including the state Department of Toxic Substances Control and the Regional Water Quality Control Board.

SCAQMD required Quemetco to conduct an HRA in the mid-2000s, which resulted in Quemetco significantly reducing its lead and other air toxic emissions and related health risk by installing an advanced pollution control system known as a Wet Electrostatic Precipitator.

SCAQMD is the air pollution control agency for Orange County and major portions of Los Angeles, San Bernardino and Riverside counties.