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I know, EVs are supposed to be emissions free and good for the environment. But the truth is that building any vehicle–whether internal combustion or electric–is an energy-intensive process and can emit harmful chemicals. And as car companies go, Tesla may be one of the worst polluters around.

Bay Area Air Quality Management District regulators said, “Tesla violations are frequent, recurring, and can negatively affect public health and the environment.” Tesla landed on the 2023 Toxic 100 Air Polluters list, landing at number 89. In 2022, the government fined it $275,000 for two pollution issues. The first was not measuring, tracking, or recording its factories emissions. The second was not minimizing air pollutants caused by painting its cars.

Tesla has been sued by 25 of California’s counties for mishandling hazardous substances. Regulators actually checked factories’ dumpsters and found hazardous substances that shouldn’t be tossed in a landfill. In Germany, protestors are camped out in a forest Tesla wants to clearcut to expand its factory, complaining about water quality and other environment issues. And it looks like the startup is under fire for pollution again.

Unibody shell of a Tesla EV in the Fremont factory
Tesla Fremont factory | Patrick Tehan/MediaNews Group/Bay Area News via Getty Image

A nonprofit called the Environmental Democracy Project is targeting Tesla’s Fremont, California project. It is even suing the automaker. It’s claim? The company is “exposing nearby resident and workers to excessive nitrogen oxides, arsenic, cadmium and other harmful chemicals.”

So what if Tesla loses this lawsuit? Under the Clean Air Act, the company could face a civil fine as high as $121,275. But with the Model S MSRP at $74,630, that’s basically couch cushion change for Tesla.

So does making EVs pollute? The truth is that manufacturing and painting any car pollutes. And just because a car claims “zero emissions” while driving doesn’t mean zero lifetime emissions. So for car buyers concerned about the environment, it’s never a bad idea to investigate an automaker a bit.

Next, read about how Tesla owners are suing over employees using cameras to spy on “private scenes,” or learn more about the hazardous waste lawsuit that California counties are leveling against Tesla in the video below: