A host of elected officials gathered Friday in Boyle Heights to pay tribute to residents and community activists who pushed for a more extensive investigation and cleanup effort in neighborhoods impacted by the now-shuttered Exide battery recycling plant in Vernon.

Gov. Jerry Brown. Photo credit: business.ca.gov
That effort hit a peak this week with Gov. Jerry Brown proposing $176.6 million in state funding for the testing and cleanup of homes, schools and parks within a roughly 1.7-mile radius of the plant.

“I never expected $176 million,” said Teresa Marquez, president of the Boyle Heights Stakeholder Association. “It was like winning the lottery for the community. We were thinking those houses are never going to get clean. It wasn’t getting done. Now we can move more rapidly and efficiently to save the children.”

said Senate President Pro Tem Kevin de Leon, D-Los Angeles:

“The dedication and determination of community organizers and residents who have rightfully demanded a safe and healthy environment for their families has brought us to this point and I cannot overstate my appreciation for their fearless action.”

Councilman Jose Huizar echoed the sentiment during the gathering at Resurrection Catholic Church.

“Residents like those at Resurrection Church and others have sacrificed so much — some through family death and illness,” Huizar said. “We cannot forget their sacrifice and we must do everything in our power to honor them by making sure this cleanup is done quickly and thoroughly and that we never have environmental contamination like this ever again.”

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.

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.

Brown’s proposed funding is expected to provide testing for at least 10,000 homes.

— City News Service

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