Did Boyle Heights bow to Porter Ranch for attention in dueling disasters?A state agency this week defended Gov. Jerry Brown’s administration against accusations that it applied a double standard in addressing lead and other contamination affecting mostly poor and working-class neighborhoods surrounding the now-shuttered Exide battery recycling plant.
Residents in East Los Angeles and cities that neighbor the Vernon-based battery plant, as well as local politicians like Los Angeles County Supervisor Hilda Solis, have accused Brown of ignoring their pleas for help, only to see him respond quickly to the natural gas leak near the more affluent Porter Ranch community, even personally meeting with that area’s residents.
Department of Toxic Substances Control spokesman Jim Marxen disputed the characterization in a letter published this week in the newspaper Eastern Group Publications.
Marxen denied that there is any “double standard” at work.
Brown’s administration “has taken a number of critical steps to protect the residents around the Exide facility” over the last five years, Marxen said.
He said the governor’s office played a role in halting the plant’s operations in 2013, as well as DTSC’s issuance of several enforcement orders since then and the rejection of Exide’s permit application last February.
Marxen also said Brown’s office had a role in making $7 million available last August for soil sampling and the cleanup of yards, and the governor himself proposed $176.6 million last month for remediation.
Marxen also denied that the steps “came about only after public pressure,” saying “the plan has been in development for a significant amount of time.”
“Last August’s allocation of $7 million was a direct response to new analysis by DTSC that Exide’s contamination reached 1.7 miles beyond the plant,” Marxen said. “The work since that time provided valuable information that helped shape the governor’s proposal.”
Exide agreed last 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 by March 2020, according to state officials.
Officials said 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 with a temporary 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 $176.6 million in funding is expected to provide testing for at least 10,000 homes.
— City News Service
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