Tired of waiting for state regulators, county teams are working in neighborhoods affected by contamination from the now-closed Exide battery plant to test soil and offer resources to residents, the Board of Supervisors was told Thursday.
Supervisor Hilda Solis said residents deserved quick action.
“For over three decades, the Exide battery plant operated on a temporary permit. During that time, the company rained arsenic, benzene and lead down on its neighbors,” Solis said. “For too long, the concerns of nearby residents went unheard or were ignored.”
The Department of Public Health has a dozen three-person teams testing soil at 45-50 homes per day, the department’s interim director, Cynthia Harding, told the supervisors.
The Exide plant permanently closed in March 2015, but “left behind a legacy of environmental contamination in Maywood, Huntington Park, Boyle Heights, Commerce and East Los Angeles” reaching out in about a 1.75-mile radius, Harding said.
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.
The county estimates that up to 10,000 homes could have lead contamination, with about 10 percent of those expected to show levels qualifying as hazardous waste.
In one bit of good news, the deputy director of the department’s Health Protection Division said only about 6 percent of the homes evaluated to date have shown that highest level of contamination.
DPH teams, which work with an outside contractor, offer results to residents one day after testing soil outside their homes, according to Solis.
“They’re going to get results the next day,” Solis said. “That’s something that (the Department of Toxic Substances Control) should have been doing all along.”
If lead contamination is found, public health nurses meeting with families recommend blood tests for any children living in the home. Those tests are provided free of charge by the county.
To date, 398 homes have been tested by county workers and officials hope to reach a goal of 500 by March 15.
“It’s really critical that all 10,000 homes get assessed,” Harding told the Board of Supervisors.
Even more important, Solis said, is finding out from state regulators, “How immediately will they begin the cleanup?”
Last month, Gov. Jerry Brown proposed an additional $176.6 million for further testing and cleanup, but those funds are subject to approval of the state budget.
As of year-end, DTSC workers had removed more than 10,000 tons of contaminated soil, analyzed more than 20,000 soil samples from hundreds of properties and cleaned up 186 residential yards.
When Exide agreed to close the lead-acid battery recycling plant, it committed to 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 last 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.
— Wire reports
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