Photo by Art Torres

The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors will spend $2 million to help speed the cleanup of contaminated soil in Boyle Heights and other Eastside neighborhoods near the closed Exide battery recycling plant in Vernon.

The funds were requested by Supervisor Hilda Solís, whose district includes the affected areas and who said “the state continues to drag its feet” in the removal of toxic lead dust from up to 1,000 Eastside homes.

According to published media reports, the county measure adopted Tuesday will not directly fund the cleanup but instead “facilitate” the state’s effort. The Los Angeles Times reported that the county will use the $2 million to do its own soil testing at the homes and launch a public outreach campaign in the mostly Latino neighborhoods near the plant. The funds will pay for Spanish-speaking community outreach workers or “promotoras” who will encourage residents to get their blood tested for lead poisoning and hand out vouchers for lead cleanup inside their homes.

The measure approved by the five-member board also orders the county to draft a timeline and strategy to force state regulators, Exide “and other responsible parties to fully fund and undertake this cleanup.”  

In March, Exide agreed to close the battery recycling plant and to pay $50 million for cleanup of the site and surrounding neighborhoods. Of that, $26 million is earmarked for residential cleanup and Exide has so far paid $9 million of it into a trust. Only about $1 million remains in the trust and another $5 million is due to be paid into it by March 2020.

Supervisor Hilda Solís said the state is “dragging its feet” in the Exide cleanup effort.

In August, the DTSC pledged an additional $7 million in state funds to expand testing and cleanup.

But on Tuesday, Solís said the final price tag for the cleanup may exceed $400 million. The supervisor said that although 1,000 homes have been found to have lead levels above 1,000 parts per million –California’s threshold for hazardous waste– the state has estimated that as many as 10,000 homes may require some cleanup.

Solís said the Department of Toxic Substances Control (DTSC) has not done enough to protect the health of Eastside residents. She said that only 44 homes near Exide have been completely cleaned, inside and out.

According to City News Service, a DTSC spokesperson said  that the state had cleaned the yards of 170 homes around Exide and cleaned the “interior of every home where the property owner has granted us access.”

The Exide plant, which operated for 33 years without a permanent permit, produced lead and other toxic chemicals such as arsenic and benzene, which have been linked to an increased risk of cancer. Health experts believe that remaining lead contamination in the soil can cause learning disabilities and other developmental problems in children.

Boyle Heights and the city of Maywood are known to have the highest levels of residential contamination, but the county says the exposure may affect nearly 2 million people. Crews have already removed soil from 174 homes near the plant where elevated levels of lead were discovered.

In a letter mailed Monday to county supervisors, DTSC Director Barbara Lee welcomed the county funds as “invaluable to help stop continuing exposures to lead in the community.”  The DTSC says it will soon begin a new round of cleanup and testing, focusing on properties with the greatest potential for lead exposure.

Exide did not comment on Tuesday’s measure.

DTSC officials are expected to provide an update on its cleanup plans at a meeting with a community advisory group scheduled for Wednesday Oct. 28 at the Commerce City Hall.

Photo above: The now-closed Exide plant in Vernon. Photo by Art Torres.

 

Boyle Heights Beat

Boyle Heights Beat is a bilingual community newspaper produced by its youth "por y para la comunidad". The newspaper and its sister website serve an immigrant neighborhood in East Los Angeles of just under...

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