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California sues Tesla over toxic waste handling

A COMBINED group of 25 Californian counties have sued Tesla claiming the electric vehicle manufacturer mishandled hazardous waste at its facilities across the US state.


The lawsuit raised in Alameda, Los Angeles, San Francisco, San Joaquin, and other counties was filed this week in California state court. It seeks civil penalties and an injunction that would require the manufacturer to properly handle all future waste.


In a report published by Automotive News this week, it is alleged that Tesla violated state unfair business and hazardous waste management laws by “improperly labelling waste and sending the materials to landfills that cannot accept hazardous materials”.


California’s strict hazardous waste management laws carry potential civil penalties as high as $US70,000 ($A105,800) per violation, per day.


The lawsuit alleges that waste including paint materials, brake fluids, used battery cells, anti-freeze, and diesel fuel were dumped illegally. It further claims that the violations have occurred at more than 100 Tesla facilities, including its Freemont manufacturing plant.


According to recent research carried out by the Netherlands Organisation for Applied Scientific Research, lithium-ion batteries that are incinerated or sent to landfill release toxic chemicals into the atmosphere, soil, and water.


Heavy metals including cobalt, lithium, manganese, and nickel are also released, contributing significantly to acidification of soil. These materials can leach into groundwater causing contamination and potentially harming animal and human life.


The Netherlands Organisation for Applied Scientific Research says that extracting these materials from EV batteries can be a complex process that requires a significant amount of energy, further contributing to greenhouse gas emissions.


Further, and for each kilowatt-hour of battery capacity disposed, some 9.9kg of carbon-dioxide is released into the atmosphere.


It is the second time in five years Tesla has been accused of violating hazardous waste management practices.


In 2019, the company reached a settlement with the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) over alleged federal hazardous waste violations, again at Tesla’s Freemont plant.


In that instance, Tesla agreed to take steps to properly manage waste at the facility and pay a $US31,000 ($A47,000) fine.


Tesla later brokered a deal with the EPA in 2022 in which it agreed to pay a $US275,000 ($A417,000) penalty after the federal agency said the company was “failing to keep records and to implement plans to minimise air pollutants from painting operations at the Freemont plant”.



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