Closure of battery recycling plant in north BR a cause of concern

Environmental activists are asking the state to make sure that any hazardous wastes left after the closure of a north Baton Rouge battery recycling plant are not a harm to the community.

The Exide Technologies Baton Rouge Recycling Center is preparing to close for good, and the Louisiana Environmental Action Network has asked the state Department of Environmental Quality to make sure there is enough money to close the facility properly and to make sure hazardous waste on the site has been properly disposed of over the years.

LEAN wants DEQ “to assure that this facility will not leave behind a legacy of long-standing environmental issues for the surrounding community,” LEAN executive director Marylee Orr wrote in a June 24 letter to DEQ.

Operations at the 2400 Brooklawn Drive facility have been going on since the late 1960s. Exide bought the facility in 1999 and it operated as Exide Corp. Baton Rouge Smelter. The facility’s name was changed later to Exide Technologies Baton Rouge Recycling Center.

Exide recycled inorganic lead-bearing materials into lead pig and block ingots, which were sold to customers for use in making batteries, bearings, ammunition and chemicals, according to a closure plan sent to DEQ on June 4.

When the company requested to temporarily stop production in 2009, by law it was required to start closure work within 30 days of receiving the final volume of hazardous waste unless it received an extension.

The extensions allow a company to keep a facility open while waiting for economic conditions to improve.

“Any time a hazardous waste site shuts down because of economic conditions,” said Sam Phillips, assistant secretary of DEQ, “we do have the ability to give an extension.”

A total of three extensions were granted by DEQ in 2009, 2010 and 2011. A fourth extension was requested, but DEQ met with the company in December and asked for a business report that could show if market conditions would favor it being able to start operations within a year. Phillips said DEQ never received that information.

“At some point, it looked like they wouldn’t reopen anytime soon,” Phillips said. “Looking at the facility, they were essentially going to have to start from scratch.”

So in March, DEQ denied the fourth extension request and started the ball rolling on closing the facility.

Around the same time the extension was denied, the national company filed for bankruptcy, leading LEAN consultant Wilma Subra to question whether the company has enough money to complete the closure.

Phillips said although the final closure plan is still being worked on by the company, there isn’t a concern about having enough money at this point, regardless of the status of the bankruptcy action by the company. The state holds $2.4 million in surety bonds from the company.

“That’s adequate to handle the issues we’re aware of right now,” Phillips said. “We’d only call the bond in if they walk away.”

He said that’s not likely to happen.

“In talking with the facility, they’re as anxious to get it closed as we are,” Phillips said.

Requests for comments from the company weren’t returned last week.

One area of concern is soil contamination in a small area where an outfall from the facility drains into Baton Rouge Bayou.

Tom Harris, administrator of underground storage tanks and remediation division with DEQ, said they found high levels of lead, arsenic and cadmium, and the company is working on a plan to remove the soil.

“It’s not a very large area,” Harris said. “It is maybe a 40- to 50-foot radius out, at maximum, from the outfall.”

The area probably goes down about 5 or 6 feet.

The final closure plan is expected to include 30 years of follow-up monitoring of the site, which has several solid waste and hazardous waste disposal areas, most of which have been closed. The two main concerns after the closure will be to make sure the caps on the landfills are in good shape and keep out rainwater and to maintain the groundwater monitoring system.