Lead makes you dumber, even if you only eat or inhale just a little bit. (Don't take my word for it, see what the scientists are saying). So when Frisco became one of 21 places in the country that failed lead-air quality standards that the feds implemented in 2008, people pointed their fingers at Exide's battery recycling plant in town as a likely culprit.
Exide agreed to close the plant in 2012 and shortly after filed for bankruptcy. Then Frisco officials announced last year that the city would probably keep and contain the lead at the spot where Exide left it, even though researchers say that toxic landfills in populated areas are a terrible idea.
"This type of metal waste can be fairly straightforwardly contained and made into a community asset," was the optimistic spin Frisco's environmental attorney Kerry Russell had when we interviewed him last year.
Frisco first estimated that the "community asset" option could cost around $20 million. It sounds like a lot of money, though it was a mere fraction of the $100 million or so that environmental group Downwinders at Risk said Frisco should have demanded from Exide to get the soil hauled away. Either way, it looks like even the cheaper option is still too expensive for Exide.
According to a letter that Russell sent the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality about six weeks ago, Exide is downplaying the amount of lead, cadmium, antimony and selenium at its old plant. "It is clear Exide continues in its attempt to minimize the amount of contaminated media, both hazardous and non-hazardous, at the FOF [former operating facility]" Russell writes. "This intentional minimization of the documented contamination forms the basis for Exide's flawed conclusion that little remediation is required for site closure ..."
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In an email statement, Frisco's spokesperson Dana Baird says that the city first estimated that "remediation" would cost $20 million but then realized that the cleanup would cost more. "More information has been made available and the estimated cost of remediation has risen as a result," she writes. "Exide has not even agreed it will live up to its existing written agreement with Frisco much less offer money to Frisco."
The TCEQ is saying that it's still reviewing Exide's cleanup plan (the plan that Frisco says is full of lies about its lead pollution) and hasn't made a decision.
With the TCEQ acting as the mediator between Frisco and Exide, the feds are staying out of the fight. "There's been absolutely no leadership at the regional EPA office to get kind of a better view of this," says Downwinders' Jim Schermbeck. "It's just very disappointing to see the lack of leadership on the EPA's part." (It's probably not surprising then that when we called the EPA Region 6's office to ask about it, no one answered and the voicemail we left was never returned).
Texas imposes a tax on lead-acid battery sales meant to fund environmental programs and collects about $15 million annually as a result. Last year, Frisco state Representative Pat Fallon got a law passed that diverted some of that revenue directly to Frisco for its Exide cleanup. But the amount allocated to Frisco from the fund was a mere $1.5 million.