Issues in the News FAQs

SAFETY AND THE ENVIRONMENT

What is Quemetco’s commitment to safety and the environment?

Quemetco does not tolerate any behavior or activities that could result in harm to its community, its employees, or the safety of its operations.  This commitment has been steadfast and will not change.

The Quemetco facility is a fully permitted hazardous waste disposal facility with an environmental performance, worker safety, and health protection record that is tops in the industry.

Quemetco’s commitment to the environment and the community is best exhibited by the company’s ongoing effort to develop and implement controls and standards that reflect the best available air pollution control technologies available anywhere in the United States.  As part of its initiative, the company voluntarily installed a Wet Electrostatic Precipitator (WESP) and a Regenerative Thermal Oxidizer (RTO) as part of a state-of-the-art emission control system that has reduced emissions of lead and arsenic by at least 95 percent.  In addition, Quemetco publicly lobbied the SCAQMD for lower total lead emission limit levels which were adopted by the District during the most recent Rule 1420.1 amendment.

Quemetco continues to develop and deploy new technologies and innovative systems to protect its employees, the community, and the environment.

SOIL TESTING

What is the status of soil testing in the areas around Quemetco?

Between May 2016 and February 2017, Quemetco and DTSC conducted a soil investigation with the goal of identifying potential impacts from Quemetco’s historical operations to soil in areas near the Quemetco facility.  During this investigation, over 6,000 soil samples were collected and analyzed for lead utilizing an XRF instrument, with 10 percent of samples sent to a laboratory for confirmation purposes, and analysis of additional metals.

Quemetco and DTSC worked together to ensure that the soil testing was conducted expeditiously and transparently while adhering to stringent testing protocols designed to ensure the accuracy of the data generated from the soil testing.

To this end, all testing was conducted by experienced professionals, and was managed to ensure that samples were collected safely and that those handling the samples follow proper procedures.

DTSC has notified Individual home and property owners of the results of testing on their properties.  As required under the workplan, Quemetco completed a report analyzing the results of this soil testing. The DTSC report results were made available to the public in December of 2018.  WSP STUDY PDF LINK HERE.

The results of the report are what you’d expect to see in an area without any lead recycling or manufacturing facility given the age of surrounding homes and proximity to freeways.

The sample results in the area within a quarter-mile around the facility showed that nearly 68% of the residential soil samples contained lead at less than 80 parts per million (ppm) and only 0.5% of the residential soil samples contained lead above 400 ppm.  None of the 132 residential properties sampled had a representative soil lead concentration above 300 ppm (maximum residential soil lead concentration was 298 ppm).

We are pleased that the DTSC has acknowledged that the evidence collected to date does not indicate that Quemetco’s City of Industry facility has had an adverse effect on its neighbors.

Will the soil investigation be expanded outside of the original ¼-mile perimeter area?

There is currently no plan to conduct additional sampling outside of the 1/4-mile perimeter and we believe that the sampling data collected to-date shows that no further sampling outside of the 1/4-mile perimeter is warranted.

Given the lack of causal connection and the fact that the extensive soil sampling conducted to-date shows soil levels in the area surrounding Quemetco to be totally consistent with what you’d expect to find in a similar neighborhood without a lead recycling or manufacturing facility, we are confident that there is no reason justifying the additional sampling requested by the DTSC.

Why weren’t more properties sampled within the ¼-mile investigation area?

DTSC and Quemetco conducted extensive outreach to the residents and property owners within the 1/4-mile perimeter over a period of many months.  This outreach involved door-to-door knocking, mailings, telephone calls, community meetings, advertising and other media.  Many residents and property owners, however, were not interested, refused to allow access to their properties for sampling or were simply unreachable.  Without agreement of the property owners, we were unable to conduct soil sampling on such properties.

However, given the number of properties sampled (132 residential properties and 10 commercial properties), the extensive sampling conducted on public right-of-ways throughout the investigation area, and the location of these properties spread throughout the 1/4-mile perimeter area, this sampling set was more than adequate to evaluate soil conditions within the 1/4-mile perimeter area.

If you live within the ¼-mile investigation area and would like to have your house sampled, Quemetco and DTSC are still offering property owners the opportunity to have their soil sampled. Please contact DTSC’s outreach specialist Elsa Lopez at (818) 717-6566 or by email at [email protected] to have your property sampled.

Is it safe to let my grand/kids play in my front/back yard?

Soil sampling results within the quarter mile perimeter showed what you expect to see in area without a lead recycling facility given the age of the surrounding homes and proximity to freeways. However, samples sent to the laboratory of identifiable paint chips found in several yards contained lead concentrations above 1000 ppm. Lead-based paint was widely used in homes built before 1978 when it was phased-out for residential use. If your home was built before 1978 and you suspect your home may have lead paint and you have small children living in the home, please call the Los Angeles County Childhood Lead Poisoning Prevention Program at (800) 524 5323 or visit http://publichealth.lacounty.gov/lead/.

BLOOD LEAD TESTING

Quemetco offered free blood screening to those who live or work near the facility.  The results of that testing showed that blood lead levels were lower than blood levels found generally in LA County.  The results of the testing are as follows:

  • We have received blood lead test results for 107 residents
  • 33 of the 107 residents live within the ¼ mile (31%)
  • Participant ages range from 4 to 85
  • All blood lead levels are below the blood lead reference value of 5 mcg/dL except the maximum BLL (8.3 which was attributed to a lead source identified in the home during a follow-up home visit). This home was outside the ¼ mile radius
  • Results range from <0.3 (Non-detect) to 8.3 mcg/dL
  • Results within the ¼ mile: range = 0.3 to 3.2 mcg/dL; average = 0.9 mcg/dL
  • Results outside the ¼ mile: range = <0.3 to 8.3 mcg/dL; average = 1.04 mcg/dL
  • More than 2/3rds (approximately 71%) of all results with detectable concentrations of lead are ≤1 mcg/dL
  • Overall, about 30% of all results are non-detect, and 78% of all results are ≤ 1

For those who are concerned about blood lead levels, Quemetco continues to offer free testing for blood lead to those who work or live near the facility. If you are interested in blood lead screening please call (626) 364-1281 for more information on how to receive a free blood test.

Additional blood lead testing was conducted by the LA County Department of Public Health.  From 1992-93 the Los Angeles County Department of Health Services’ Toxics Epidemiology Program conducted a study to determine if the Quemetco facility was affecting blood lead levels of children living nearby the facility.  The study involved 125 children, aged 1 to 5 years old, who lived in Hacienda Heights approximately 600 feet from the Quemetco facility.  A control group of children from West Covina, where there is no lead facility, was also examined.  The study concluded that blood lead levels in children living near the Quemetco facility were not elevated.

More recently, in late 2019 and early 2020, the LACDPH conducted extensive blood lead testing for residents living in Hacienda Heights and Avocado Heights near the Quemetco facility.  The results of this testing further confirmed that residents living near Quemetco do not suffer from elevated blood lead levels.  LA County analyzed blood samples obtained from ___ residents.  [ADD SUMMARY OF RESULTS FROM COUNTY SAMPLING.]

LEAD IN THE ENVIRONMENT

Is Lead in the environment naturally occurring?

Lead in the environment comes from many documented sources including lead paint and leaded gasoline. Historical sampling at other locations in urban areas in Los Angeles County and lead speciation studies which break down the lead by type indicate that there are several other sources of lead that may be the source of some of the lead identified during the recent soil sampling process.

The proximity of the sampling locations to the 60 Freeway has likely exposed many homes in the area near Quemetco to lead from gas emissions from the freeway.  And because many of these homes were constructed when leaded paint and other leaded construction materials were in widespread use, lead from these sources is likely to contribute to the amount of lead found in soil around such homes.

CANCER

Do Lead Emissions from the Facility Cause Cancer?

On July 22, 2016 Quemetco received the results of a cancer cluster study conducted by Dr. Wendy Cozen at USC.  The study was conducted at the request of SCAQMD, DTSC and Quemetco.  The University of Southern California Cancer Surveillance Program (CSP) maintains data on all cancer cases diagnosed in Los Angeles County. The information collected includes age, race/ethnicity, patient’s address, gender, and specific type of cancer.   The study concluded that there was no elevated cancer risk from living close to the facility, and found no evidence of a cancer cluster in the neighboring areas near the facility. A copy of the study’s conclusions can be provided upon request or can be downloaded here.

Quemetco Health Risk Assessment

Quemetco is required by law to periodically prepare a Health Risk Assessment (HRA). In January 2015, Quemetco completed and submitted an HRA to the South Coast Air Quality Management District (SCAQMD or District) in accordance with methodologies approved by the California Office of Environmental Health and Hazard Assessment (OEHHA),

In the Spring of 2015, OEHHA modified the guidelines on how to conduct HRAs, and for a while it was unclear whether Quemetco would have to redo the HRA it had previously submitted to account for these new guidelines. The SCAQMD ultimately decided that the HRA submitted in January 2015 would have to be redone and opted to redo the HRA itself.

On June 23, 2016, the SCAQMD held a public meeting to discuss the results of the redone HRA:

Because the District used arsenic results from an outlier source test from late 2013 that was conducted improperly and showed substantially higher emissions than any other source test since the installation of the WESP and the District then applied the very conservative risk assessment guidelines promulgated by California in 2015, the HRA modeled excess cancer risk (>10 in a million) from the Industry facility for approximately 12,000 residences, triggering a public meeting and notification requirement.

  • The result: Quemetco has notified the public and conducted a public meeting to address the HRA and risk reduction measures for those residents which was held on June 23, 2016.
  • The higher cancer risk notification described in the HRA was not a result of increased pollution at the COI facility, but results from the change in the OEHHA standard and the measured emissions from this improperly conducted outlier test from October 2013.
  • Since the installation of the WESP in 2008 Quemetco has made significant reductions in total emissions from the COI facility.
  • The District’s risk scenarios for 2013 and 2014 referenced in the HRA confirm that facility emissions have decreased over time.
  • While Quemetco continues to work on further reducing emissions, current emissions are lower than those used in the 2014 risk estimation, within allowable permit limits, and likely at a risk level below notification requirements.
  • The COI facility is in compliance with all current DTSC permit and District rule requirements.

UNPLANNED SHUTDOWN EVENTS

What steps is Quemetco taking to ensure that its Wet Electrostatic Precipitator (WESP) does not suffer unplanned shutdowns or malfunctions, especially if the facility increases throughput in the future?

Most of the shutdowns of the WESP have been caused by either an external power disruption or from internal systems which monitor the WESP to assure that it is operating as designed.   To address many of the WESP shutdowns caused by an external power disruption, Quemetco has installed what is known as a “Dysc System”.  The Dysc System protects the WESP from power sags from the external power supplier.  As a result of the installation of the Dysc System, unplanned WESP shutdowns have dropped significantly.

Testing performed by both the SCAQMD and by the facility takes place to ensure the equipment is functioning properly.  The WESP system is designed with multiple redundancies to ensure continuous operations, but if the WESP has an unplanned shut down, the facility automatically stops processing batteries until the WESP is operational.  Quemetco will continue to utilize rigorous procedures and operational protocols for the WESP once its throughput request is approved.

QUEMETCO’s TRI INDEX RANKING

Why is Quemetco considered one of the largest polluters in Southern California based on figures supplied by the EPA?

The EPA statistics for Quemetco are based on the EPA’s most recent Toxics Release Inventory (TRI).  This is very misleading to the public, because it is incorrect to equate the TRI numbers reported to EPA with “polluters”.  In an attempt to educate the public on the meaning of the TRI data, in 2016 the EPA released a publication entitled “Factors to Consider When Using TRI Data”, a copy of which is available here.  One critical factor in evaluating TRI data is to determine where a “release” is being sent.  Is it going directly to the environment, or is it going to be recycled or deposited in a secure and licensed landfill regulated by state and federal authorities?  Based on Quemetco’s 2014 TRI data, 99.997% of all reported offsite “releases” end up in landfills, are treated at a POTW, or are recycled, leaving only 0.003% of all reported “releases” being released directly into the environment.

In the case of Quemetco, the TRI report actually reflects the production of “slag” which is the normal solid waste generated by any lead smelting process.  Quemetco primarily reprocesses used lead-acid batteries from cars and other vehicles.  Many such batteries contain additional chemicals added by the battery manufacturer for varying reasons, including battery performance and stability.  As part of the smelting process, once the lead material is transferred to a furnace, impurities and added chemicals are separated from the lead and float to the top in the form of slag.  Since this separation process is inexact, some of the released impurities also contain lead (approximately 3%).  During the smelting process, Quemetco collects the slag and ensures that it is safely transported to a licensed hazardous waste facility in California, Arizona, or Nevada.  The quantities reported in the TRI represent this slag almost exclusively, since Quemetco has reduced airborne and waterborne pollutants to the lowest in the industry with its enhanced pollution control technologies.  Quemetco takes great care to collect all this slag and dispose of it in full compliance with the law, so this material has no impact to our neighbors.  To equate environmental impact with a high TRI inventory is thus incorrect and misleading.

CAPACITY EXPANSION

Why does Quemetco want to expand operations at its City of Industry facility?

Quemetco has asked the SCAQMD to amend its current operating permit to allow it to process 25% more batteries.  Quemetco believes that this throughput increase is necessary to keep up with the increased demand for its recycling services due to increasing volume of used batteries requiring reclamation and reuse under California law.  Quemetco has assured the SCAQMD that such an increase in throughput volume will not increase plant emissions or environmental impacts, in part because of the massive investment in pollution control technology made over the last decade.  No physical expansion of the Quemetco facility will be required to implement this throughput increase if granted by the regulators.  The SCAQMD is currently evaluating this request.  The permit action will be subject to public and DTSC review before a new permit is issued.

The application for an increase in throughput at the Quemetco facility is subject to the California Environmental Quality Act or “CEQA”. Once an initial determination is made, the public will be notified and will have ample opportunity to provide comments.

PERMITS AND PERMIT APPROVALS

DTSC and Quemetco’s operating permit

Quemetco is also in the process of renewing its RCRA Part B Hazardous Waste Permit with the California DTSC.

In March of 2015, Quemetco submitted a timely application to renew its Part B RCRA permit with the DTSC.  DTSC has provided Quemetco with two rounds of comments to the permit renewal application and Quemetco has responded to those comments and submitted a revised permit renewal application that is currently under review by DTSC. The permit renewal process is not expected to be completed until late 2020 but the application was deemed complete so Quemetco is authorized to continue to operate under its existing permit until the DTSC issues the new permit for Quemetco.

This renewal process also has a CEQA requirement, thus any environmental impacts associated with changes in the new permit will have to be evaluated under CEQA.  Since Quemetco is not seeking any significant changes in its RCRA Part B permit renewal, it is unlikely that there will be any impacts requiring mitigation under CEQA.  Once again, any CEQA determination regarding the permit renewal will be issued by the relevant government agency to the public for review and comment prior to being finalized.

The status of all conditions and requirements contained in Quemetco’s 2005 permit, and submissions regarding Quemetco’s permit renewal application are compiled and maintained by the DTSC and are available to the public at dtsc.ca.gov.

Quemetco’s water discharge permits are issued by the Los Angeles County Regional Water Quality Control Board

Quemetco is subject to requirements specified in the General Permit for Storm Water Discharges Associated with Industrial Activities (Permit) issued by the Los Angeles Regional Water Quality Control Board (LACRWQCB).  In a letter dated April 30, 2015, Quemetco received a letter from the LACRWQCB notifying Quemetco that its review of the facilities 2013-2014 annual report revealed that the analytical results for zinc and lead “exceeded benchmark values” and requested that Quemetco implement Best Management Practices (BMPs) to reduce or prevent pollutants in storm water discharges.  In response to this letter, Quemetco immediately amended its Storm Water Pollution Prevention Plan (SWPPP) to further improve the analytical results of its benchmark testing values and submitted the changes to the LACRWQCB.  In addition, Quemetco voluntarily installed a Best Management Practice (BMP) in the form of a million-dollar state of the art stormwater filtration system to further reduce any metals in its discharge and to enhance existing BMPs previously in place at Quemetco.

NOTICES OF VIOLATION (NOVs)

Quemetco works hard to ensure compliance with all applicable statutes, rules and regulations relevant to its recycling operations.  While AQMD, DTSC and other agencies have, at times, alleged that we have failed to operate in a compliant manner, Quemetco has, in each instance, taken immediate steps to work with the relevant agency to address the alleged deficiencies and ensure that their operations comply with all relevant legal requirements.

Groundwater & NOVs

Quemetco’s groundwater monitoring data obtained over the past two decades clearly shows no evidence of groundwater contamination from lead or other metals associated with operations at the Quemetco facility.

Quemetco has performed extensive groundwater monitoring over the previous two decades which clearly demonstrates that Quemetco’s operations have had no significant impact upon groundwater beneath or downgradient of the Quemetco facility.

Analysis of data collected from the containment building (aka Closed Surface Impoundment and Former Raw Materials Storage Area) at Quemetco reveal no evidence of any significant releases from these locations.  The historical monitoring data instead shows scattered detections of contaminants of concern that DTSC itself characterizes as “sporadic and historical”.

The monitoring data does not demonstrate any pattern of contamination above permitted levels for lead, arsenic, and volatile organic compounds.

Arsenic Exceedances and NOVs

Quemetco performs daily ambient monitoring for arsenic.  Quemetco began monitoring the WESP stack for arsenic during June 2018.  WESP arsenic is monitored hourly and the hourly results, as well as a 30-day rolling average, are reported to SCAQMD daily as required by Quemetco’s SCAQMD Title V Permit.

There have been no violations of the arsenic emission limits from the WESP

With exception of publicly reported exceedances, air concentrations of arsenic have been below levels determined to be safe for public health (i.e., below the SCAQMD Rule 1420.1 24-hour ambient arsenic limit of 10 nanograms per cubic meter).  These instances are not related in any way.  In fact, in each instance, exceedances were due to events or activities outside the facility’s normal operations or processes.  Additionally, after the installation of the Wet Electrostatic Precipitator (WESP) in 2008 arsenic emissions into air have reduced by greater than 95%.

Quemetco formally notifies the South Coast Air Quality Management District (SCAQMD) of an ambient air concentration of arsenic that exceeds SCAQMD standards at its facility.

Ambient air monitoring at the facility fence line continues on a daily basis as required by SCAQMD Rule 1420.1.

Benzene NOVs

These were resolved when Quemetco and the South Coast Air Quality Management District (South Coast AQMD) announced a recent settlement for reporting and emissions violations at its facility in the City of Industry. Quemetco paid a $600,000 penalty. The violations included not minimizing dust emissions; reporting requirements; emissions of lead, arsenic, and 1,3 butadiene that exceeded rule limits; and not maintaining negative pressure in the building enclosure. As a result, Quemetco was ordered to temporarily reduce operations at its facility as required by Rule 1420.1.

OTHER FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS

What does Quemetco contribute to the region?

Quemetco employs a unionized workforce of approximately 250 people with industry leading wages and benefits – supporting their families and the economic viability of the communities in which they live.  Additionally, Quemetco contributes hundreds of thousands of dollars per year in local taxes, fees, purchasing and charitable donations.

How do I sign up to receive regular communications about the facility?

Quemetco’s written communications with the community include required regulatory notifications and updates.  Anyone may sign up to receive these communications by visiting the website at www.quemetco.com.

Can I tour the facility?

Yes, regular tours will resume once Los Angeles County and California COVID 19 restrictions have been lifted.  Anyone may sign up for a tour by contacting Quemetco HERE.

Is Quemetco required to provide Proposition 65 Notices?

As documented in its Los Angeles District Attorney Consent Judgment as amended, Quemetco is not required to provide any Proposition 65 Notices.  Read the document here.

What type of testing is Quemetco required to do on a regular basis and which agencies oversee the testing?

Air

SCAQMD Rule 1420.1 requires periodic testing of Lead, Arsenic, Benzene and 1,3-butadiene emissions.  EPA’s NESHAPS requirements include periodic testing for Lead, Total Hydrocarbons (THC), Dioxins and Furans.

Hazardous Waste

DTSC RCRA Part B Permit, Storage, Transporter Registration

Water

NPDES Stormwater, LA County Sanitation District POTW Discharge, Groundwater monitoring

Additional Permitting/Testing

CALOSHA requires medical testing of Quemetco employees including blood tests, DEA for Red Phosphorus)