Officials ask DEQ to monitor process
Years after a north Baton Rouge battery recycling plant ceased operation, the shutdown of the facility finally has begun, but not without concerns from elected leaders and environmental groups.
Citing problems at other Exide facilities particularly in Frisco, Texas, environmental groups and politicians have urged the state Department of Environmental Quality to make sure that as the Exide Technologies Baton Rouge Recycling Center in north Baton Rouge is shut down, that it is done correctly and that the state looks for signs of contamination.
“One area of particular concern relates to the active landfill at the Exide Baton Rouge facility which is supposed to contain only ‘nonhazardous’ waste. A similar landfill was in operation at an Exide facility in Texas but, when tested by governmental authorities, was found to contain hazardous waste,” state Sen. Sharon Weston Broome, D-Baton Rouge, wrote to DEQ in June.
In a response to several letters from Broome, DEQ responded that staff had a conference call with the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in August to discuss any similarities between the Texas and the Baton Rouge facilities. DEQ Secretary Peggy Hatch wrote to Broome that the state will continue to talk with their Texas counterparts to make sure the investigation of these sites is consistent.
Although the discussion showed similarities between the two sites, it also highlighted some differences, Hatch’s letter stated.
The Texas facilities disposed of material in a slurry form, while the Baton Rouge facility disposed of the material when it was a dry, soil-like material. In addition, the Baton Rouge facility used a more efficient way to treat the waste before it was disposed of as well as requiring groundwater monitoring of the closed and active landfills, something the Texas permit didn’t require in its permit to Excide.
“I have to say I believe DEQ has made every effort to answer my questions, but my concerns remain,” Broome said.
Although DEQ has said that there are differences between the facility in Texas and the one in Baton Rouge, the Texas facility could still be a warning of things that Louisiana should be looking for, she said.
“This is a very serious cleanup,” Broome said.
For that reason, she said, it’s worth the extra effort to make sure there is no impact to the environment or groundwater.
Broome said she recently sent a letter to EPA asking that they do a comprehensive assessment of any onsite or offsite impacts from the facility to make sure there isn’t a lasting legacy of pollution left after the shut down is complete.
“I would believe that would certainly elevate my security surrounding the closure,” she said. “It’s a small facility, but the potential impact of the closure could be great.”
EPA responded to questions about any future action the agency might take at the site by saying the state DEQ has the lead for the work. Jean Kelly, DEQ spokesperson, said a decision hasn’t been made yet about whether testing of the landfill material itself will be done.
Jennah Durant, spokesperson for EPA, wrote in an emailed response to questions that EPA inspectors have found violations of hazardous waste regulations at both the Texas and the Baton Rouge facilities and the state agencies are addressing those violations.
“In both Louisiana and Texas, the violations discovered during the EPA-lead inspections have been provided to the authorized State Agencies to take appropriate actions. EPA can provide assistance to those agencies if they request it,” Durant wrote.
The Baton Rouge facility has operated on Brooklawn Road since the 1960s but Exide purchased the facility in 1999 and operated as Exide Corp. Baton Rouge Smelter and then as Exide Technologies Baton Rouge Recycling Center. The facility took inorganic lead-bearing materials and recycled it into lead pig and block ingots which were then sold for the construction of making batteries, bearings, ammunition and chemicals, according to a closure plan sent to DEQ on June 4.
However, in 2009 the company asked DEQ to temporarily stop production which meant by law the facility was to start closing down within 30 days after it got the final shipment of hazardous waste unless the state granted an extension.
The extension is a way for a company to stop production for a time until economic conditions for the product improves. The facility was granted three extensions in 2009, 2010 and 2011 but the fourth extension was denied after the company didn’t prove that market conditions would favor a restart of operations within a year, Sam Phillips, assistant secretary of DEQ, said in August.
“They are in the demolition stage and started about a week and a half ago,” said Karen Price, senior scientist for waste at DEQ. It’s expected the demolition of the processing area will be done by Dec. 1.
The company will leave the administration building and the wastewater treatment facility in place during the upcoming 30 years of continued monitoring of the landfills at the site including a 5.8-acre solid waste landfill, a 1.5-acre solid waste landfill and five acres of closed hazardous waste piles.
A statement released by the Exide Technologies on Oct. 31 stated, “Exide is proceeding with the approved clean closure plan of its Baton Rouge lead-acid battery recycling facility in close partnership with the Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality. This facility was idled (including removal of most raw material and product) in 2009 and now is closed. The Company is following the approved closure plan in accordance with regulatory requirements.”