The Push for Cleaner Air in Muncie, Indiana
Exide Technologies operates a secondary lead smelter in Muncie, Indiana, that recycles lead from batteries. The recycling is beneficial, but unfortunately, the facility has multiple violations of the Clean Air Act that have led to excess air emissions of lead, particulate matter, volatile organic compounds, and dioxins/furans. (See a timeline of Exide Technologies operations here.)
Lead is toxic to the nervous system, particularly for young children. Particulate matter harms respiratory and cardiovascular health, and dioxins/furans are carcinogenic and damaging to the reproductive and immune systems.
The lead emitted into the air can settle out onto soil. An investigation at a similar Exide lead smelter in California has found contaminated soil in neighborhoods downwind. More than 200 properties are now having their soil tested as a result.
The US Department of Justice proposed a consent decree in March, 2015, that would improve pollution controls at Exide Muncie, but the decree does not include the current best practices. Secondary lead smelters elsewhere are having excellent results using wet electrostatic precipitators or WESP. The RSR Corporation lead smelter in Indianapolis uses a WESP and has submitted data to the EPA showing that it reduces arsenic by 98% and lead by 99%. They have had similar results with a WESP at their smelter in southern California.
The harmful heavy metal and hydrocarbon emissions from secondary lead smelters don’t come just from their smoke stacks. They also come from what is called ‘fugitive emissions’. This has been demonstrated by monitoring equipment placed at the fence lines of lead smelters. Fugitive emissions can be effectively controlled by enclosing all of the lead processing and carefully controlling dust.
The Hoosier Environmental Council organized a coalition of ten health and environmental organizations in April, 2015, calling for strengthening controls at Exide Muncie by requiring WESP and fence line monitoring. Read the coalition’s comments to the Department of Justice here.
California Department of Toxic Substances Control (2015). Latest News on Exide. https://www.dtsc.ca.gov/HazardousWaste/Projects/UpdateExideSuspension.cfm
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (2015, May). Lead. http://www.cdc.gov/nceh/lead/
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (2014, April). Particle pollution. http://www.cdc.gov/air/particulate_matter.html
Complaint, United States v. Exide Technologies, No 1:2015-cv-00433-TWP-TAB (S.D. Ind. Mar. 16, 2015), ECF Dkt. No. 1.
Ketterer, M.E. (2006). The ASARCO El Paso Smelter: A source of local contamination of soils in El Paso (Texas), Ciudad Juarez (Chihuahua, Mexico), and Anapra (New Mexico), Summary Report.
Letter from Hoosier Environmental Council and coalition to US Attorney Randall Stone (2015, April). Re: United States and the State of Indiana v. Exide Technologies, D.J. Ref No. 90-5-2-1-11003 – Comments on Proposed Consent Decree.
Smith, D.B., Cannon, W.F., Woodruff, L.G., Solano, F., Kilburn, J.E., & Fey, D.L. (2013). Geochemical and mineralogical data for soils of the conterminous United States: U.S. Geologic Survey Data Series 801, 19p., http://pubs.usgs.gov/ds/801/
US Environmental Protection Agency (n.d.). Toxics Release Inventory. http://iaspub.epa.gov/triexplorer/tri_release.chemical
World Health Organization (2014, June). Dioxins and their effects on human health. http://www.who.int/mediacentre/factsheets/fs225/en/