A Los Angeles city councilman Friday called out the state for what he said was an incredibly slow response to the clean-up of contamination at the former Exide battery recycling plant in Vernon.
Councilman Jose Huizer, whose district includes the Boyle Heights neighborhood that has been impacted by the Exide site, wants the director of the California Department of Toxic Substance Control to come before his Planning and Land Use Management Committee.
In 2016, Gov. Jerry Brown approved $176.6 million to test soil at properties near the plant and conduct cleanup operations at as many as 2,500 properties near the site, which closed in 2015.
The cleanup operation is the largest ever undertaken by the state.
“I am outraged and our state should be outraged by the ineptitude and lack of urgency under the most urgent circumstances possible,” Huizar said. “I have little faith that an agency that failed to do its job and duty on behalf of the residents of Los Angeles’ east and southeast communities to properly regulate Exide, would then be able to lead the largest contamination cleanup in state history.”
He added, “The state has done an extremely poor job of keeping track of this issue in what is an environmental justice affront of epic proportions to the mostly Latino, immigrant and low-income residents of our affected communities, including Boyle Heights. The city of Los Angeles deserves answers about immediate remedies and funding plans for all the cleanups, including the 5,000 sites and parkways that currently have no funding or cleanup plan. These plans need to be in place now — not years or decades from now. The health and welfare of our families and children depend on it.”
The Exide plant, which opened in 1922, was allowed to keep operating under a temporary permit for 33 years, despite continuing environmental violations. 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.
In March, state environmental regulators released maps identifying more than 2,000 properties near the former Exide plant with elevated lead concentrations in the soil. The interactive maps were based on tests conducted by the Department of Toxic Substances Control at 8,500 properties within 1.7 miles of the shuttered facility.
Huizar outlined his request for DTSC Director Barbara A. Lee to appear before his committee in a City Council motion. If approved by the full council, the motion could not compel Lee to appear but would express the desire of the full City Council to hear from her.
The motion also calls on city departments, including the city attorney, to report back on options for the city to compel DTSC or Exide to perform the necessary cleanups on a much faster timeline.
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