U.S. Senator Alex Padilla and other elected officials gathered on Friday in front of Resurrection Catholic Church to call for the Environmental Protection Agency to help the state remove lead contamination from Boyle Heights and East Los Angeles neighborhoods surrounding the former Exide Technologies battery recycling plant.
Padilla wants the EPA to designate the impacted areas as a Superfund site to free up funding and expedite cleanup efforts. The petition is currently under review by the EPA.
In February, Padilla, along with Sen. Dianne Feinstein and Rep. Robert Garcia, sent a letter to EPA administrator Michael S. Regan, saying that the designation “will correct decades of missteps by the federal government that left Southeast Los Angeles County Communities susceptible to toxic environmental pollution.”
“For decades, Exide dumped lead and hazardous contaminants into these communities without consequence, and it’s clear to me that this community of neighbors, friends, and families have been neglected by just about everyone involved,” Padilla said on Friday. “There’s been misstep after misstep and it’s time to finally put an end to that and provide justice.”
The Exide Technologies battery recycling plant in the City of Vernon shut down in 2015 following a history of air pollution and hazard waste law violations. For decades, it operated without a necessary permit and dumped lead, arsenic, and other harmful chemicals into the air, ground and water. Meanwhile, several Eastside communities, which are mostly Latino, are still dealing with the effects of its widespread lead contamination.
The U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) agreed not to prosecute Exide in exchange for the company safely closing down the plant, which originally opened in 1922, and cleaning up the contamination it caused. In 2020, the EPA and DOJ supported a bankruptcy plan that allowed Exide to walk away from all criminal liability and responsibility to clean up the plant and surrounding areas, leaving state taxpayers to pay.
The fallout has affected many residents in Boyle Heights, including Terry Gonzalez-Cano who said her family has suffered and been torn apart because of environmental injustice.
The long-time Boyle Heights resident says both of her parents required intensive care for the last few years of their lives. Both she and her brother have cancer. What strikes Gonzalez-Cano the hardest though is the health issues facing her children, aged 32 and 18, who she said are both unable to bear children.
“When I found out that my house tested above toxic waste levels, I nearly fainted because I made my children go out and play. I did that to my children because I didn’t know. I thought I was being a good mother,” said the 48-year-old.
Gonzalez-Cano is not alone.
Many in the impacted communities suffer from cancer, asthma, learning disabilities, dangerous levels of lead in their blood and more, according to a press release from the event. A 2019 USC study even found high levels of lead in baby teeth in both of these neighboring communities.
“There’s no hope for me and my family, we’re already sick,” said Gonzalez-Cano. “There’s no way to make us healthy again, but I don’t want to see future generations of people come in and go through what we’re going through.”