Tesla Pays Out $86,000 in Settlement Over Hazardous Waste and Air Pollution [Update]

Robots on the Tesla Model S production line at Tesla’s Fremont, California production facility, 2012.
Robots on the Tesla Model S production line at Tesla’s Fremont, California production facility, 2012.
Photo: Paul Sakuma (AP)

The Environmental Protection Agency slapped electric car manufacturer Tesla with an $86,000 settlement for violating “hazardous-waste and air-emissions standards” at its Fremont, California-based production facility, the San Francisco Chronicle reported on Monday.

According to the Chronicle, the EPA said inspections in 2017 conducted alongside California’s Department of Toxic Substances Control and Bay Area Air Quality Management revealed that Tesla was not properly managing hazardous wastes, including by not performing adequate due diligence on whether some of the solid waste produced by the plant was toxic. The agency air emissions standards, the paper wrote.

The Chronicle wrote that the EPA said Tesla has since come into compliance, with the company agreeing to pay a $31,000 fine and spend tens of thousands on equipment for municipal firefighters:

The company has now corrected those violations and has provided training in hazardous waste management to more than 1,100 paint shop workers, technicians and supervisors, the EPA said.

In the settlement announced Monday, the EPA said Tesla would pay a $31,000 penalty, spend $55,000 on emergency response equipment for the Fremont Fire Department, and take further steps to improve waste management at the factory.


In a copy of the settlement obtained from the EPA by the Verge, the agency wrote that Tesla had “failed to promptly clean up” flammable paint and solvent, improperly stored hazardous waste and used fluorescent lighting, left around two unsealed 55-gallon drums of waste, and improperly classified “waste purge solvent as an ignitable hazardous waste” without also noting that it “exhibited the characteristic of toxicity.” It also dinged the company for leaking transmission lines that carried hazardous waste and not maintaining “adequate aisle space in the main central hazardous waste accumulation area.”

These violations may seem relatively minor, but as the Verge noted, this is not the first time the Fremont facility has been dinged for violations of various environmental and safety regulations. Those have included a $275,000 fine over Tesla Roadster certifications in 2010, a $71,000 fine in 2013 after three workers were sprayed with molten aluminum, a $29,000-plus fine this year for safety violations in tents used as production lines, and a $139,500 fine for pollution this year.

In 2018, the National Council for Occupational Safety and Health (National COSH) released a report naming Tesla one of the most dangerous workplaces in the country, not long after the Center for Investigative Reporting’s Reveal published an article alleging it failed to record serious workplace injuries including “broken bones and lacerations.” In 2017, there were reportedly over fifty 911 calls placed from the Fremont Plant and 722 reported injuries (Tesla said that year it had over 33,000 employees). Staff at the plant, for whom safety is a primary concern, have long reported attempts by Tesla management to shut down unionization efforts.

Tesla told Reuters in a statement that “all gaps identified in the inspection have been resolved.”


Update: A Tesla spokesperson sent the following statement to Gizmodo:

The EPA conducted these inspections in late 2017 as part of its general enforcement priorities for that year. Since then, all gaps identified in the inspection have been resolved by Tesla. In the 16 months since the EPA visit, Tesla has made great strides in its environmental program and its ongoing compliance under Laurie Shelby, our VP of Environmental, Health & Safety. Most notably, Laurie’s leadership has led to a significant expansion of the EHS team. We are pleased to have worked collaboratively with EPA Region 9 and are particularly proud that the city of Fremont will benefit from the agreed settlement.


[San Francisco Chronicle]

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When gifted an old auto assembly plant turned joint venture aka NUMMI Fremont - it might be good idea to make sure waste management plans are up to date.

This post perfectly exemplifies intersectionality of Gizmodo, Jalopnik and Earther and the importance of getting readers out of their interest silos. Or not.