By Ayesha Rascoe
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Exide Technologies has agreed to shutter its lead-acid battery recycling facility in Vernon, California, and pay $50 million in clean-up costs to avoid criminal prosecution for illegal storage of hazardous waste.
As part of a deal reached late Wednesday with the U.S. Attorney's Office in California's central district, Exide also admitted to storing lead-contaminated hazardous waste inside leaking van trailers on a number of occasions over the past two decades.
"The reign of toxic lead ends today," said Acting U.S. Attorney Stephanie Yonekura in a statement. "After more than nine decades of ongoing lead contamination in the city of Vernon, neighborhoods can now start to breathe easier."
Exide will "immediately and permanently cease" recycling operations at the plant, demolish the facility and clean up any groundwater contamination at the site and surrounding neighborhoods, according to the agreement.
Exide Technologies, which filed for bankruptcy in 2013, has operated the recycling plant since 2000, but the facility has been in use since 1922.
The company said in a statement that it would ask the court handling its bankruptcy to approve the agreement.
Once the company emerges from the Chapter 11 proceedings, Exide said it "expects to be able to meet its closure and cleanup obligations."
The Vernon facility had employed about 130 workers.
Federal prosecutors agreed to not prosecute Exide or any of its employees for 10 years as long as the company complies with the terms of the deal.
The government said it accepted the agreement because the threat of criminal prosecution would likely force the liquidation of the company, leaving federal agencies to clean up the Vernon site.
(Reporting by Ayesha Rascoe; editing by Alan Crosby, G Crosse and Ted Botha)