A growing fear of deportations could hamper a massive effort planned this weekend by County authorities to survey residents in Boyle Heights and nearby communities about health issues related to lead contamination from the shuttered Exide plant.

Some 1,500 volunteers and employees of the Los Angeles County Health Agency are expected to visit more than 20,000 homes within a 1.7 mile radius of the former battery recycling facility in Vernon –an area that also includes portions of unincorporated East Los Angeles and the cities of Bell, Commerce, Huntington Park and Maywood.

According to information given at a press conference Wednesday at Resurrection Church, the volunteers plan to talk to residents about the dangers associated with lead and explain how people can minimize their exposure to the toxic metal. They will also ask residents about their health concerns and offer them information about resources available, like free blood lead testing.

KPCC reported that Boyle Heights activist Teresa Marquez was one of several speakers  at the press conference. “Open the door to the health department and let them know the illnesses in your family, including any maladies doctors can’t explain,” she said.

The volunteers will be wearing distinctive royal blue T-shirts as they visit homes from 9 am to 2 pm, but some fear they may somehow be misconstrued to be agents of U.S. Immigration Customs and Enforcement. The Daily News reported that during the press conference County Supervisor Hilda Solís “implored the community… not to be scared.”

“These residential communities have been unjustly exposed to hazardous living conditions for decades,” Solís said. “Thousands of people still have not been given appropriate information about the contaminants or been connected to the appropriate resources to improve their lives. It is important we continue connecting our residents to the information and support they need to protect their health and their families.”

KPCC reported that county officials also fear that many renters who have moved recently in the neighborhood might not know about lead contamination in the soil. The outlet said Saturday’s effort comes as the State Department of Toxic Substances Control prepares to release its plan for an expanded cleanup of lead from properties within the 1.7 mile radius.

Last April Governor Jerry Brown signed emergency legislation allocating $176.6 million for the testing and removal of lead from thousands of homes surrounding the Exide plant, but so far only a handful of homes have undergone the cleanup.

During nearly 30 years of operation, the Exide plant released lead and other toxic chemicals into the air, which settled into the soil in homes, schools, nurseries and other properties. Lead is considered especially dangerous for children and has been linked to damaged nervous systems, learning and behaviour problems and other impairments.

Photo above: Hilda Solís speaks at Resurrection Church on Wednesday. Photo from LA County Health Agency Twitter account.

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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