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More than 200 concerned residents and workers jammed Resurrection Catholic Church in Boyle Heights Tuesday night to express their views on the hazards of a Vernon battery recycling plant.
The overflow crowd came together to meet with company officials from Exide Technologies and representatives of the South Coast Air Quality Management District (AQMD) calling for action in the wake of Exide’s order to suspend operations April 24.
The California Department of Toxic Substance Control (DTSC) order cited Exide for continuously leaking hazardous metals and other toxic substances from wastewater pipes into the environment.
The plant closure came one month after the AQMD ordered Exide to create a “risk reduction plan” following a report that showed its production released high levels of arsenic emissions.
These emissions pose cancer risks for 110,000 residents in Boyle Heights, Maywood, Huntington Park, Commerce, Vernon and some areas of East L.A, according to DTSC.
Los Angeles City Councilmember Jose Huizar, whose 14th district includes Boyle Heights, released a statement calling for Exide to comply with AQMD and DTSC orders.
“I urge Exide to install the cleanest available pollution-control technology and to assure the public that its history of pollution problems is finally rectified,” read the statement.
The majority of residents who took the microphone called for Exide to clean up its act, or to shut-down altogether.
Lifelong Boyle Heights resident Terry Cano delivered an impassioned plea to Exide President Paul Hirt, to save her children from the same fate she has suffered.
“You’re negligence has killed me,” said Cano, referring to the respiratory health issues she is experiencing. “I’m a single parent and you’re taking me from my children.”
Joe Marquez, also a Boyle Heights resident, agreed with Cano, adding that Exide’s pollution has negatively affected his family too.
Marquez grew up with four siblings in Boyle Heights and said that only those siblings who stayed in Boyle Heights are experiencing respiratory health issues, while those who moved out are “perfectly healthy.”
“Exide was stopped because they were poisoning us. Why are we letting these guys get away with this?” asked Marquez.
Resident Teresa Marquez detailed Exide’s history of toxic emission violations throughout the years and called for the plant’s closure.
“You’re not only hurting us, you’re hurting the world, the environment and our children,” she said.
But those who came out in support of Exide also made their voices heard last night.
Resident Nicky Vasquez told the crowd that Exide has always been good to her and her father who worked there for 27 years.
“Exide does a profound job in taking care of him. It [Exide] is a responsible company and has been since 1922,” said Vasquez.
Emilio Vignonia, who has been with the company for more than 20 years, said that “it is a great place to work.”
United Steelworkers Union representative David Campbell came out in support of the plant’s reopening, saying union members would work closely with Exide and the AQMD in addressing the emission problems.
“The community has every right to be concerned with the release of toxic pollutants,” said Campbell.
He added that two-thirds of the company’s employees are currently laid off, many of which have more than 20 years seniority, and that 70 percent work in the affected communities.
Huizar also addressed the loss of community jobs in his prepared statement.
“As much as I sympathize with those who are not able to return to work due to this shutdown, residents and workers alike must have full assurance that the facility has taken every feasible step to reduce its pollution and to protect the environment, workers and neighbors alike,” read the statement.
This is the sixth of seven scheduled community meetings the AQMD and Exide are staging in the affected communities in compliance with Assembly Bill 2588, the so-called Toxic Hot Spots program.
The bill requires companies that emit toxic air pollutants to assess possible health risks and regularly provide reports of their findings to the affected communities.
Tuesday night’s meeting drew the largest crowd of any of the previous community meetings, a fact confirmed by AQMD officers, who apologized to the crowd for the cramped quarters.