Frisco battery recycler facing tougher lead pollution standards won't add production

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by By VALERIE WIGGLESWORTH / The Dallas Morning News / The Dallas Morning News Matthew Haag contributed to this report.

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Posted on October 24, 2009 at 12:00 AM

Updated Thursday, Nov 12 at 12:04 PM

Exide Technologies Inc. said Friday that it is withdrawing its request to increase production at its battery recycling plant in Frisco.

The withdrawal came three days after the Frisco City Council voted unanimously to ask the company to withdraw the application with state regulators because of concerns related to toxic lead emissions. That vote Tuesday followed a Dallas Morning News story Sunday on the application as well as the expectation that the area around the plant would not meet the new, more stringent federal air-quality standards for lead - becoming the only area in the south-central U.S. falling short.

A statement released by the company on Friday said in part: "Exide heard the concerns of the members of the Frisco City Council and people in the community. The Company is committed to maintaining a positive relationship with the City of Frisco - making the necessary investments designed to benefit its 130 employees in Frisco and its neighbors."

Frisco City Manager George Purefoy said he met with Exide officials after the council's vote and told them he wanted a response. That response came across his fax machine just before noon Friday.

"I believe the letter delivered to the city today re-establishes that commitment [by Exide to be a responsive corporate citizen] to the city of Frisco and its citizens," Purefoy said in a prepared statement. The company "has also committed to support health studies and to install additional controls so that the plant may come into full compliance with the new regulatory standards."

Exide's letter says the company also will conduct studies at the city's closed Stewart Creek Wastewater Treatment Plant, where lead and cadmium from plant operations have recently been discovered. It says the company has been in compliance with the current air-quality standard for lead for more than a decade.

"This is a great first step to addressing the concerns of our citizens," Mayor Maher Maso said. "This doesn't close the issue, but we will work with them to address our concerns. I'm excited to see they are communicating with us."

EPA toughens standards

Exide operates the only plant in Texas that recycles used automotive and industrial batteries.

It was built in Frisco in 1964, when the city's population was less than 1,900. The city's population has exploded in recent years to more than 106,000.

In November 2008, the Environmental Protection Agency gave notice that the federal air-quality standard for lead emissions would become 10 times more stringent - moving from 1.5 micrograms of lead per cubic meter of air to 0.15 micrograms per cubic meter.

The change relates to new research that now shows lead is more harmful to people than once thought. It's especially detrimental to children, who can suffer from learning problems, diminished IQs and brain damage.

Exide's application to increase production has been under review by the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality since October 2008.

In November 2008, Frisco officials filed a request for a contested-case hearing, which is a legal proceeding similar to a civil trial.

At a town hall meeting Monday, city officials handed out a sample letter that residents could use to protest the application. The sample letter was also posted online as part of an information page the city launched Thursday to keep residents informed about the issues.

State records show three more requests for contested-case hearings have been received from Frisco residents this week.

Health risk study

Mac Hopkin, who lives about a mile northeast of the plant, was among those residents. He said he didn't believe a battery-recycling plant should be located near two schools. Frisco High School is several hundred yards south of the plant while Bright Elementary School is about a half-mile to the east.

Hopkin said he was pleased to hear about the permit application withdrawal.

"That's what we were after," he said. "I'd just as soon they go away, but this is a good step."

Purefoy and Maso met with the state environmental commission's executive director on Monday.

Maso said the agency has the scientists who can provide answers and are committed to working with the city on finding solutions.

"Frisco is not standing alone on this," Maso said.

Among the concerns is whether there are health effects from the Exide lead emissions. The city and the state agreed earlier this week to look into doing a health risk study of residents.

"Citizens must be comfortable knowing they are not harmed by any industry," Maso said, "not just Exide."

'Regional issue'

State officials sent a letter to the EPA that the area around the Frisco plant is not expected to the meet the new lead standard. That area extends south to include Frisco High School and north to include Frisco's City Hall, Pizza Hut Park and several neighborhoods and other businesses.

The area is one of only 18 across the country not expected to meet the new air-quality standards for lead.

Exide's Friday letter addresses the city's near-term concerns, said council member Bart Crowder.

"But this isn't by any means something that we won't continue to monitor," he said.

Maso said he's heard from neighboring cities this past week that have been supportive and are willing to help.

"This is a regional issue, not just a Frisco issue," Maso said. "Air goes to a lot of different places. If it's not safe for some people, it's not safe for everybody."

Staff writer Matthew Haag contributed to this report.

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