Northeast Edition The Press

County may spend $2 million on Exide cleanup

LOS ANGELES — County Supervisor Hilda Solis is calling on the state to do more to clean up contaminated soil around the now-closed Exide battery recycling plant in Vernon and said she would ask her colleagues to spend $2 million in county money on the effort.

“This isn’t contaminated soil in a faraway deserted location,” Solis said Oct. 20. “This contaminated soil is in yards and parks where kids play kickball and ride their bikes and then track dirty shoes into the house. These children deserve to be able to play outdoors while not putting their health at risk.”

Exide agreed to close its lead-acid battery recycling plant last March and 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 August, Exide, which filed for bankruptcy in 2013, had paid $9 million into a trust and another $5 million is due to be paid in by March 2020, according to state officials.

The plant, which produced a host of hazardous wastes, including lead, cadmium and arsenic, had 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 remains a concern.

Environmental regulation and cleanup is the state’s responsibility, but Solis said she had lost patience with the Department of Toxic Substances Control.

“These families need action now. They don’t want to wait for another study or another test,” Solis said. “They don’t care which agency takes the lead. If the state won’t act with urgency, we must.”

According to Solis, the department has cleaned only 44 homes, though they estimate that 5,000-10,000 homes in Vernon, Boyle Heights and Huntington Park will need to be addressed.

On Aug. 21, the Department of Toxic Substances Control announced that it had cleaned 150 residential properties and had $7 million in funding to spend on cleanup and further testing.

“We are unwavering in our dedication to making these neighborhoods safe,” department Director Barbara Lee said at that time, adding that the agency would focus first on homes with the greatest potential lead exposure.

A department spokesperson could not immediately be reached for comment.

In August, the state auditor found that the department had inadequate systems for billing and recovering costs from environmental offenders and might have to write off as much as $194 million as a result.

Solis plans to submit her motion to the board next week, asking for $2 million to clean homes already identified as contaminated and to identify other residences in need of cleanup.

“We have to put the health of the residents first. I have met family after family who have children with development delays and disabilities,” Solis told her colleagues.