Gov. Jerry Brown proposed Wednesday spending $176.6 million to expedite and expand the testing and cleanup of homes, schools and parks near the now-shuttered Exide battery recycling plant in Vernon.
The proposal was outlined in a letter sent to the chairs of the Senate and Assembly budget and appropriations committees. The letter notes that the state will “vigorously pursue Exide and other potential responsible parties to recover the costs of this cleanup.”
“This Exide battery recycling facility has been a problem for a very long time,” Brown said. “With this funding plan, we’re opening a new chapter that will help protect the community and hold Exide responsible.”
According to the governor’s office, the proposal will ensure that properties within a 1.7-mile radius of the plant — including homes, schools, day care centers and parks, will be tested and have lead-contaminated soil removed.
The announcement came one day after the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors voted to send a letter to Brown and legislative leaders, calling for them to allocate more funding for the cleanup effort, saying the $8.5 million originally proposed by the governor was inadequate.
“This is a tremendous step,” Supervisor Hilda Solis said Wednesday. “This funding will bring immediate relief to thousands of families who for so long have been ignored. Last month, I traveled to Sacramento to urge the governor and the state Legislature to come up with funding to test all 10,000 homes and to clean up the most contaminated. Our voices were heard.”
In October, the board approved $2 million in funding to help speed the cleanup of contaminated soil around the now-closed Exide plant, with Solis saying the state was dragging its feet.
City Councilman Jose Huizar, who last week called on Brown to expedite the cleanup, hailed the governor’s announcement, saying it will be a boost for “communities that for so long suffered undue harm because of Exide’s negligence and a complicit state agency that failed to regulate the battery recycling company.”
“I’m also pleased that this plan includes schools, parks and day cares, which is something the community and I have called for,” Huizar said. “I look forward to seeing a timeline and plan for testing and remediation so that we know when this expanded effort will start and how long it will take to complete.”
Mayor Eric Garcetti called on the state Legislature to act quickly to approve the funding, and said the city will begin a public-education campaign to encourage people to have their homes tested for lead contamination.
“Only government can defend the most vulnerable among us,” Garcetti said. “Governor Brown has exercised that responsibility with an urgent call for resources to test and clean up thousands of homes in the Boyle Heights neighborhood.”
Senate President pro tem Kevin de Leon, D-Los Angeles, said the funding will help clean more than 10,000 properties. He said he plans to introduce legislation next week to help expedite the funding.
“The funding will also provide critical community outreach to ensure that families, particularly children, receive testing as soon as possible to mitigate the harm this contamination has caused,” de Leon said.
Exide agreed in March to close its lead-acid battery recycling plant and pay $50 million for cleanup of the site and surrounding neighborhoods.
Of that amount, $26 million is meant to be set aside for residential cleanup. As of August, Exide, which filed for bankruptcy in 2013, had paid $9 million into a trust and another $5 million was due to be paid in by March 2020, according to state officials.
As many as 1,000 homes may be found to have toxicity concentrated enough to qualify as hazardous waste, and the state has estimated that 5,000-10,000 homes may ultimately require some cleanup.
The plant, which produced a host of hazardous wastes, including lead, arsenic and benzene, operated for 33 years without a permanent permit. Efforts to upgrade the equipment and safety procedures repeatedly failed to meet environmental standards.
Though gaseous plant emissions are no longer an issue, lead contamination in the soil, which can cause developmental delays and cognitive impairments, remains a concern.
A public health spokesman has also cited the increased risk of cancer linked to other chemicals once emitted by the plant.
Boyle Heights and Maywood have the highest levels of residential contamination, but the area of exposure stretches to encompass roughly 2 million people, according to Angelo Bellomo, director of the county’s Environmental Health Division.
— Wire reports
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