Tesla Faces Air Pollution Lawsuit Filed Over Problems at California Painting Facility

Plant has received 112 violation notices since 2019, with more than 90 of the Tesla air pollution problems occurring in 2022 and 2023.

A California nonprofit group has filed a lawsuit against Tesla Inc., claiming the electric auto manufacturer’s Fremont painting facility releases significant air pollution, exposing workers and nearby residents to toxic chemicals.

The complaint (PDF) was brought by the Environmental Democracy Project (EDP) on May 13, seeking a court abatement order to ban Tesla from continuing to violate air quality and impose fines up to $121,000 per day on the automaker.

The non-profit group indicates that Tesla has received at least 112 violation notices since 2019, detailing how the company allowed toxic chemicals to be released from the facility. Each violation involved emissions of up to 750 pounds of pollution into the atmosphere.

Tesla Air Pollution Problems

Air pollution can contain a range of harmful chemicals, including particulate matter, benzene, arsenic, and other toxic substances. Exposure can cause asthma, bronchitis, and other respiratory conditions.

Research published in 2023 linked short-term exposure to air pollution to an increased risk of suffering a stroke. Additionally, researchers from Harvard concluded long-term exposure can increase a person’s risk of depression later in life.

The lawsuit filed by the non-profit highlights a long history of Tesla air pollution problems and failure to comply with environmental laws. From 2021 to 2024, Tesla violated federal air quality rules more than 160 times, according to the group.

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The EDP lawsuit indicates that records show Tesla violated air pollution laws more than 90 times between 2022 to 2023. Tesla said the breakdowns were due to “unforeseen” malfunctions.

Documents reviewed by EDP indicate the violations stemmed from the paint shop operations at the facility and specifically named the spraying booths and baking ovens as the source of the problem. The complaint lists a variety of causes for the releases, citing problems with the thermal oxidizer or other components of the abatement system. Prior investigations also linked the problems to the painting department’s containment systems and production lines.

The lawsuit indicates the components break down repeatedly, and emissions are automatically vented into the atmosphere without proper abatement. The documents also allege Tesla shuts down the abatement system at times, allowing chemical emissions to enter the atmosphere at will.

Prior research has shown that low levels of ozone from paint emissions can harm human health. Other toxic paint chemicals can cause cancer, neurological damage, reproductive and developmental damage.

Local Communities Trying to Shut Tesla Plant Down

On May 2, the Bay Area Air Quality Management District requested an abatement order due to Tesla’s emissions violations. The abatement request called for the Fremont plant to be shut down.

If the abatement order is issued, Tesla will be required to implement a plan to address the violations. The company would be required to hire a third-party consultant to evaluate the plan and make recommendations. Tesla would then have to execute the plan to stop the release of uncontrolled emissions.

A hearing will be held to determine if the abatement order will be issued, but a date has not yet been set.

Tesla has faced a slew of lawsuits and emissions violations, leading to multiple settlements. In 2022, Tesla agreed to a $275,000 settlement with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency for breaking the Clean Air Act at the Fremont plant across three years.

In 2021, Tesla settled a $750,000 fine from the air quality agency for 33 air quality violations committed since 2015.

In February, eight Bay Area counties sued Tesla, claiming the company illegally dumped hazardous waste produced in the Fremont plant and its auto service centers around the region.

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