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Tesla ordered to stop polluting Bay Area air with ‘frequent and ongoing’ toxic emissions

Tesla ordered to stop polluting Bay Area air with ‘frequent and ongoing’ toxic emissions

Tesla has polluted Bay Area air with harmful and toxic emissions from its Fremont electric car factory more than 100 times in the past five years. On Wednesday, local authorities ordered it to stop.

“Tesla’s ongoing violations at their Fremont facility pose a risk to public health and air quality in the surrounding community,” said Dr. Philip Fine, executive officer of the Bay Area Air Quality Management District, which regulates pollution from factories and other stationary sources.

The carmaker, headed by notoriously regulation-hostile CEO Elon Musk, received more than 110 violation notices since 2019 for letting dangerous compounds and toxic contaminants escape the plant’s paint-spraying booths and paint-baking ovens, the district said.

“Each of these violations can emit hundreds of pounds of illegal air pollution, according to some estimates,” the district noted, describing the hazardous releases as “frequent and ongoing.”

Under the order from the air district’s independent hearing board, Tesla must hire an outside consultant to perform an evaluation and provide recommendations and propose a plan to the board to fix its pollution problem. The company must then execute a board-approved plan. The district did not include a timeline for the evaluation and compliance process.

The pollution arises in some cases from repeated breakdowns of the plant’s emissions controls, combined with system designs that vent toxics straight into the atmosphere even when it is still possible to capture them, the district said. At other times, Tesla shuts down pollution controls because of problems with other equipment in its painting departments, according to the district.

Tesla, which made $17.7 billion in profit last year according to regulatory filings, did not immediately respond to questions about how it would respond to the order and why it continues to release toxics from the plant. The company also did not respond to requests for comment on the lawsuit.

Even low levels of ozone created when the emitted substances meet sunlight can harm health, especially for children, older people and those with asthma, the district said last month when it announced a Tesla pollution probe. Other escaped contaminants can cause cancer and, even at low levels, neurological damage and reproductive and developmental harm, according to the regulatory agency.

The district said last month that it had an “extensive discussion” with Tesla, but the company failed to stop the pollution.

Tesla was sued last month in federal court by an Oakland-based non-profit claiming the Fremont factory’s “extensive and ongoing” pollutant emissions expose residents and workers in the area to harmful chemicals, including arsenic. The Environmental Democracy Project’s lawsuit in the U.S. District Court in San Francisco cited “a long history of noncompliance with environmental laws” at the plant and accused Tesla of breaking federal air quality rules more than 160 times between January 2021 and January 2024.

The Fremont factory, where Tesla makes its models 3, X, Y, and S, has long been the target of regulatory and legal action.

In February, eight Bay Area counties and 17 other counties from around the state sued Tesla, claiming it illegally dumped hazardous waste produced in the factory and at its auto-service centers in the region. District attorneys alleged in San Joaquin County Superior Court that the company broke laws on labeling, transportation and disposal of toxic materials.

In a 2022 settlement with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Tesla agreed to pay a $275,000 fine for breaking the Clean Air Act at the Fremont plant over three years.

In 2021, Tesla was hit with a $750,000 fine in a settlement with the air district for committing 33 air quality violations since 2015. In 2019, the company agreed to pay a $31,000 penalty over hazardous waste violations at the factory in another settlement with the EPA.

Early in the COVID pandemic, Tesla kept the plant running for nearly a week in violation of a public health order, with Musk tweeting that an “ignorant” Alameda County health officer was violating “our Constitutional freedoms.”

Musk has frequently disparaged regulations and regulators, tweeting last year, “Like Gulliver, tied down by thousands of little strings, we lose our freedom one regulation at a time.”

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