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Tesla under investigation over Bay Area factory toxic emissions, and faces lawsuit over alleged health harms

Ethan Baron, Bay Area News Group on

Published in News & Features

SAN JOSE, Calif. — Bay Area air quality officials have launched an investigation into Tesla, charging the electric automaker with letting massive amounts of harmful toxins escape into the air from its Fremont car factory. In a double blow, an environmental group has filed a new lawsuit against the company over such pollution releases.

Since 2019, Tesla, which made $17.7 billion in profit last year according to regulatory filings, has allowed 112 illegal toxic releases, each containing as much as 750 pounds of harmful contaminants, the Bay Area Air Quality Management District said in a news release early this month.

Even low levels of ozone created when the emitted chemicals meet sunlight can harm health, especially for children, older people and those with asthma, the district said. Other released contaminants can cause cancer and, even at low levels, neurological damage and reproductive and developmental damage, according to the regulatory agency, which pointed to Tesla’s paint-spraying booths and paint-baking ovens as sources of the pollution.

Tesla did not respond to requests for comment on the district’s investigation and allegations or claims in the lawsuit.

District officials announced May 2 that they were seeking an order to shut down the Fremont plant’s two car-painting departments if Tesla would not agree to hire outside experts to help stop the emissions.

The district said this week that it had previously probed Tesla’s pollution from the factory and found it resulted from repeated problems in the painting departments’ containment systems and production lines.


“Operational changes were made by Tesla, but ultimately, they were not enough,” said district spokeswoman Kristina Chu, adding that the agency may sue Tesla over the emissions.

Despite “extensive discussion” between district officials and the company, Tesla has not stemmed the emissions, the district said in its request for an order from its hearing board, which rules on regulatory-compliance issues.

Meanwhile, the car maker led by notoriously regulation-hostile CEO Elon Musk is facing a new lawsuit by a local environmental group claiming Tesla’s “extensive and ongoing” pollutant releases are exposing residents and workers in the area to harmful chemicals, including arsenic.

“It feels to us like profits are more important than actually being a good neighbor and supporting human health,” said Tanya Boyce, executive director of the Environmental Democracy Project, a nonprofit corporation that filed the lawsuit last week in San Francisco U.S. District Court. Boyce noted that children attend Bringhurst Elementary school within a mile of the Tesla plant.


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