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Eastside residents voiced their anger and frustration at a community meeting Wednesday in Boyle Heights held to discuss the high levels of lead found near a battery recycling plant.
The meeting was called by the Department of Toxic Substances Control after soil sampling conducted in Boyle Heights and Maywood revealed that every home of the 39 tested near Exide Technologies had lead contamination in the soil—exceeding California’s screening levels of 80 parts per million.
Community reaction to these results was harsh, as local residents called for Exide’s closure and questioned the DTSC’s motives in allowing the Vernon battery recycling plant to continue operations.
DTSC Deputy Director of Enforcement and Emergency Responses, Brian Johnson, dispelled allegations of any wrongdoing on the part of the state environmental agency saying the department ordered Exide’s shutdown last year.
“We did shut Exide down,” said Johnson. We were not successful in court though.”
Johnson was referring to the DTSC’s April 24 order to shut Exide down that was blocked by Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Luis A. Lavin, July 2.
Lavin granted Exide’s request for a preliminary injunction after filing for bankruptcy June 10.
Many community members questioned the DTSC’s decision to allow Exide to conduct the soil sampling, instead of a government agency or an independent, third-party agency.
Johnson countered by saying the DTSC is monitoring Exide’s soil sample collection process and that the agency is ordering the company to conduct the sampling to “hold them accountable” for the contamination.
Some residents accused the DTSC of lying about the negative impact the lead contamination is having on the surrounding communities.
Three samples were taken from each property at three different soil depths at five locations on the property.
Johnson admitted that the lead content of the samples increased the deeper the samples were taken but insisted the contamination posed no health hazards.
“The levels we saw were not a danger to public health,” said Johnson.
He did however agree there was reason to be concerned for children and pregnant women.
He urged residents to stay away from bare soil, to wash their hands upon re-entering their homes after spending time in their yards and to wash all home-grown vegetables before consumption.
The DTSC also urged community members to take advantage of the free blood lead screenings offered from April through September.
Community members also questioned why Exide is continuing to operate on a temporary permit that dates back 30 years, why it has taken so long for soil testing to commence and what the department is planning in the future.