LOS ANGELES – A trucking company has been ordered to pay $3 million for illegally transporting more than 64 tons of hazardous, lead-contaminated plastic battery chips from the now-closed Exide Technologies battery recycling facility in Vernon to a company in Bakersfield.
Wiley Sanders Truck Lines, Inc., which is based in Troy, Alabama, was ordered Monday to pay the money as part of a sentence that placed the company on probation for three years.
United States District Judge Percy Anderson imposed the sentence, describing the company’s conduct as “an environmental disaster for Vernon and the surrounding area.”
As part of the sentence, Judge Anderson ordered Wiley Sanders to pay a $1.5 million fine – the statutory maximum – and a $1.5 million community service payment to the Exide Residential Assistance Fund established by the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health to support residents affected by lead contamination near the facility.
On February 25, the company pleaded guilty to three felony counts of illegal transportation of hazardous materials.
At peak operation, Exide’s facility received approximately 40,000 lead-acid batteries per day, according to the government’s sentencing memorandum. During the battery recycling process at the facility, the batteries were crushed, broken apart in a hammer mill, then separated into their primary component streams – lead, acid and plastic. The lead and acid were dealt with separately, while the plastic chips were rinsed with water in an attempt to remove lead and other materials. Wiley Sanders then transported the wet battery plastic chips – usually 40,000 pounds at a time – to a facility in Bakersfield, where the chips were repurposed into resin-coated plastic pellets that could be used to manufacture new batteries and other products.
Wiley Sanders specifically admitted in its plea agreement that, on three occasions between November 2013 and March 2014, it willfully and recklessly transported a total of 128,840 pounds (64.42 tons) of lead-contaminated plastic chips from Vernon to Bakersfield. The company also admitted knowing that the trailers it used to transport the battery plastic chips did not contain any lining or inner packing material to prevent liquids and semi-solids from leaking through cracks and other openings in the trailers.
Because of its conduct, lead-contaminated residue leaked out of the trailers when Wiley Sanders drivers transported the battery chips from Vernon to Bakersfield. Wiley Sanders truck drivers occasionally transported the semi-trailers on public roads before the plastic chips had dried, despite the fact that the lead-contaminated chips and resulting lead-contaminated liquid residue would leak out of the trailers.
There is no known safe level of lead in human blood.
In 2015, Exide Technologies reached an agreement with the United States government that called for the battery manufacturing company to close its recycling facility in Vernon and pay an estimated $50 million to clean-up the site and surrounding neighborhoods which have been affected by environmental toxins for decades.
This matter was investigated by the United States Environmental Protection Agency, Criminal Investigation Division and the United States Department of Transportation, Office of Inspector General. The California Department of Toxic Substances Control provided assistance.
This case is being prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorneys Mark A. Williams and Joseph O. Johns of the Environmental and Community Safety Crimes Section.