Air regulators criticize Tesla plant in California for air pollution

A Tesla manufacturing plant in California has come under fire from local air regulators who say the electric car maker has frequently released illegal amounts of air pollution.

Tesla's manufacturing and assembly plant in Fremont has been cited for more than 110 air quality violations since 2019, more than double that of any other major facility in the Bay Area. Air district officials say the facility's two paint shops have been a source of uncontrolled emissions of smog-forming pollution and toxic chemicals over the years.

“Tesla's repeated failure to comply with air quality standards is unacceptable and increases the risk to public health,” Philip Fine, the air district's executive director, said in a statement.

The Bay Area Air Quality Management District is now seeking an order from the agency's quasi-judicial hearings board to force Tesla to correct the problems.

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It's an ironic turn of events for Tesla: America's largest electric car maker faces accusations of worsening air quality and endangering public health. The violations are another black eye for the company's co-founder and CEO, Elon Musk, who has stated “Tesla has done more to help the environment than all other companies combined.”

Tesla's Freemont plant, however, has previously been cited by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency for violations related to toxic fumes emanating from leaking and improperly sealed paints, primers and automotive fluids.

Tesla representatives could not be reached for comment.

The Fremont plant was Tesla's first factory, where the first Model S rolled off the assembly line in 2012. It originally opened in 1962 as a General Motors assembly plant.

The air district says frequent equipment breakdowns and improper emissions have occurred at Tesla's paint shops, which include a series of spray paint booths and ovens that speed up the drying process.

When the system is working properly, paint shops collect dangerous air pollution and essentially burn harmful chemicals. But frequent equipment failures have led to the emission of pollutants into the atmosphere.

In some cases, the air district says these emissions were avoidable, but Tesla has programmed its operations to automatically shut down its pollution control system and illegally vent harmful emissions in some situations.

In each of Tesla's air quality violations, it has released up to 750 pounds of illegal pollution, according to air district estimates.

The air district wants an independent engineering firm to investigate the incidents and propose solutions. The proposed oversight will be the subject of a meeting yet to be scheduled.

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