Quemetco (parent company RSR)
Location: 720 S. Seventh St., City of Industry


The San Gabriel Valley Task Force is working together with the Clean Air Coalition of Avocado Heights and North Whittier (CAC) and the Hacienda Heights Improvement Association whose resident’s health may be affected by the operation of this plant either now or in the past.


Local Concerns:

  • Contamination may exist in soils surrounding the facility that have not been addressed from past operations. Although Quemetco has installed pollution control equipment, lead levels in the soil, in homes, around schools from previous activities may be causing health problems. CAC recently (Nov.-Dec. 2015) conducted a health survey of residents in Hacienda Heights and Avocado Heights. Although not a scientific study, reports indicated many incidents of cancer and respiratory problems. Reports of illnesses of pets were also received.
  • The State of California has known about elevated levels of lead in soil at dozens of properties near the plant for 24 years and little has been done to investigate the potential problem.
  • Is there local groundwater contamination?
  • What is the reliability of testing done by Quemetco?
  • The release of a number of airborne cancer causing chemicals, particularly arsenic into the surrounding communities may pose a health hazard.
  • Recent rains will wash lead from the soil into the environment and San Jose Creek.
  • Recent soil testing has revealed levels of cadmium and antimony may constitute a health hazard to residents.

This plant has been in the City of Industry since 1959 and now is adjacent to residential development, nearby schools and parks. It is the only lead/acid battery recycling facility in the U.S. west of the Rocky Mountains since the closure of a similar plant, Exide, in Vernon. It recycles materials not only from the western states but even foreign countries. Residents wonder why foreign batteries are being brought into their community instead of being processed nearer points of origin.

QuemetcoOn March 12, 2015 the California Dept. of Toxic Control (DTSC) received from Quemetco application for a 10-year extension of its permits to operate. Their last general permit was issued in 2005. They are requesting authorization from DTSC to continue the storage, treatment and disposal of hazardous wastes at their facility. Separately, Quemetco is seeking permission from the South Coast Air Quality Management District to boost the amount of batteries it recycles by 25 percent. Quemetco did not include the proposed increase in throughput in its Title 22 (hazardous waste) permit renewal application so DTSC is processing this application on the assumption of current levels of throughput. Awareness of the potential problem on the part of the public has grown because of the discoveries of contamination surrounding the Exide plant in Vernon and also because residents of Hacienda Heights live closer to Quemetco than in the case of Exide.

The Sierra Club is concerned about Quemetco because of potential harm from soil contamination from past operations that have not been addressed and for any problems that would result from current/future expanded activities. The plant in the past has been cited for violations, and recently was cited by DTSC for a groundwater monitoring system that was not operating and a hole in the wall of a hazardous waste containment building.  Because of heavy rainfall recently the water table has risen so that the groundwater system is now in operation.

The plant currently processes 1.2 million pounds of car (lead/acid) batteries each day. Batteries are received at the plant in packed pallets where they are processed by separating the liquid acid and the leaded materials from the battery casings. Acid is neutralized, and the wastewater flows to the a treatment plant then reused or discharged to the Los Angeles County Sanitation District facility nearby.  Leaded contents are transferred to in-house smelters for lead recovery and lead ingots are produced. The battery casings are crushed into small pieces, washed and dried prior to transfer to a waiting truck for transportation to KW Plastics of California in Bakersfield for plastic recycling. However, small amounts of plastic are mixed with materials that are smelted, resulting in air emissions that are problematic.

The company has been issued numerous violations over its years of operation:

  • 1995: Quemetco was ordered to clean contaminated soil at Industry plant by state Department of Toxic Substances Control.
  • 1998: Cited by SCAQMD for exceeding allowance for lead.
  • 1998: Plant emits 2.6 million pounds of toxic waste, according to U.S. EPA Toxic Release Inventory (1996 data).
  • 2000: Proposition 65 warnings indicate arsenic and lead emissions spread into La Puente, Industry and Hacienda Heights.
  • 2004: Soil, dust and sediment samples revealed up to 52,000 mg/kg around the plant.
  • 2005: Emergency interim measures to remove or cover lead-contaminated soil, dust and sediment and cleanup along San Jose Creek.
  • 2006: Highest cancer burden of any business in the SCAQMD jurisdiction. Cancer risk is due to emissions of arsenic, 1,3-butadiene, cadmium and hexavalent chromium.
  • 2006: Quemetco reports a cancer risk of 22 in 1 million, down from 33 in 1 million in 2000.
  • 2011: Ranked No. 6 out of Top Ten facilities for toxic releases in California, according to EPA.
  • 2012: SCAQMD violation for failing to reconcile third and fourth quarter emissions of nitrogen oxides, a smog-forming emission, and for exceeding allowances from the 2010 compliance year.
  • 2012: Area re-sampled and found recontamination that required emergency measures to remove lead contaminated soil, dust and sediment.
  • 2013: Source test from Nov. 22 reveals levels of arsenic higher than previous year. Company ordered to prepare a health risk assessment using higher emissions rates. (Source: EPA, SCAQMD, San Gabriel Val-ley Tribune archives and DTSC presentation.
  • 2016: Violation of inoperative groundwater monitoring system, hole in hazardous containment building wall.

Unease in Hacienda Heights and Avocado Heights of North Whittier exists because it is regulated by the same state agencies that have failed to protect the communities around the now closed Exide plant in Vernon. The DTSC has also recently issued permits for another project in which there were questions of inadequate evaluation by the agency (CleanTech hazardous waste facility in Irwindale).  Concern about the agency at the State level is high enough that a 3-person oversight committee, comprised of a scientist with an expertise in toxic materials, a community representative, and a local government expert, will be monitoring DTSC’s permitting procedures.

The Department of Toxic Substances Control, South Coast Air Quality Management District (SCAQMD) and the Water Board may not be working together adequately to regulate Quemetco that has a long history of permit violations. SCAQMD is currently processing Quemetco’s application to expand its throughput by 25% while DTSC is processing a renewal of Quemetco’s hazardous waste permit, which does NOT mention their application to expand. Meanwhile, Quemetco is discharging lead and zinc into storm-water (which percolates into our groundwater) at levels beyond benchmarks while the Water Board only requests better housekeeping practices. (CAC website)

Several studies have indicated there may be a problem associated with Quemetco. In 1991 a study conducted by Cal Poly Pomona found high levels of soluble lead in 19 of 22 samples taken from around the plant. Levels as high as 13,300 mg/kg (threshold at the time was 1000mg/kg) adjacent to the plant). In addition, samples taken from areas around the plant indicated high levels of chromium, nickel, and lead in areas less than 2 km distance from the plant. No follow-up on these studies was undertaken.

Another study (Mar. 1996) of lead levels in blood of children found the soil lead, dust lead, outdoor paint lead, and air lead levels were higher at exposed sites than in a control community located in a similar area of Southern California not in the vicinity of a similar plant. In contrast, the lead content of the indoor paint samples in the two communities was not appreciably different.

The blood lead levels of the children living near the secondary lead smelter were within the normal range at that time. Now, however, there is considered to be no safe lead level, particularly for children since they come in contact with dust and soil during play and are developing neurologically rapidly. Lead in the blood remains for a short half-life, but neurological damage that can result lasts a lifetime.

DTSC investigated off-site deposition and accumulation of airborne emissions of lead on the periphery of Quemetco in 2004 and 2013 and required Quemetco to expand the lateral extent of airborne and/or surface wa-ter borne emissions, including but not limited to lead. New soil tests raise concerns that legacy pollution from the facility’s more than 50 years of operations may require an expensive cleanup similar to the one underway around Exide.

In 2013 South Coast Air Quality Management District (SCAQMD) required Quemetco to do a risk assessment for arsenic and cancer. Levels were found to be in excess of thresholds of SCAQMD and the agency has required Quemetco to come up with an plan to reduce arsenic risks with implementation by Nov. 2019.

Current Status:

DTSC has been testing soil in public right of ways since mid-2016. There has also been independent testing completed by the Keck School of Medicine at U.S.C. Metals that have been found that are of concern in addition to lead include antimony and cadmium as well as arsenic. Commercial facilities are also being tested. Additional drilling for samples to a depth of 18 feet will be conducted in some local parks.  Results are currently expected to be released in March, 2017.

SCAQMD is requiring that Quemetco come up with and implement a plan to reduce arsenic emissions by Nov. 2019.


%d bloggers like this: