A bankruptcy court ruled that Exide Technologies is allowed to abandon its former battery recycling plant in Vernon, despite the protests of state and local officials.
The move will leave the state (taxpayers) with a hefty bill to pay for the continued environmental clean up of the site.
Chief Judge Christopher Sontchi in Delaware ruled that there was no “imminent” threat posed by Exide’s abandonment of the plant, even though the site has led to extensive lead pollution in the air and soil of surrounding neighbourhoods.
“The entire property is not sort of a seething, glowing toxic lead situation,” Sontchi said. “We have a very dangerous element that will cause long-term health effects” and takes time to accumulate, he said. “I don’t think any of that indicates there’s an imminent, immediate harm to the general public if this property is abandoned.”
Exide will be able to formally abandon the site by the end of the month, according to the settlement. After that, the state will need to take over environmental clean up efforts. In court, Judge Sontchi suggested that both the state and the Department of Toxic Substances Control had failed to take timely action to clean up the plant, which was allowed to continue to operate for over 30 years on a temporary permit.
State attorneys strongly objected to the settlement and have vowed to appeal.
In 2015, the U.S. Department of Justice agreed not to prosecute Exide for violating hazardous waste law in exchange for safely shutting down the Vernon plant and cleaning up the related contamination, including the lead.
When the plant was closed, Exide committed to pay $50 million for clean up of the site. Of that, $26 million was supposed to go toward cleaning up surrounding residential areas.
Environmentalists and community groups have long said a real solution requires comprehensive overhaul of the state Department of Toxic Substances Control, which has a history of slow response to urgent health threats and poor oversight of hazardous waste facilities.