HUNTINGTON PARK — At the prodding of state Senate President Pro Tempore Kevin de León, the state will expedite the cleanup of potentially thousands of homes contaminated with lead from a now-shuttered Vernon battery recycling facility.
The Department of Toxic and Substance Control announced Thursday evening at a community meeting here that it has allocated $7 million to accelerate the cleanup of homes in communities surrounding the Exide Technologies plant.
De León met this week with department Director Barbara Lee and California Environmental Protection Agency Secretary Matt Rodriquez and stressed that further delays would be unacceptable.
“We’re going to hold Exide financially responsible, but in the meantime, we need to get all the contaminated homes cleaned up now,” De León said Friday. “The community can’t wait. We can go after Exide and clean up the toxins at the same time.”
De León worked with Gov. Jerry Brown’s administration to secure $7 million to initiate what could become the largest toxic cleanup of its kind in the nation’s history. About half of the funds will go for expanded testing and the rest will be used to decontaminate the highest-priority sites.
The state will pursue reimbursement from those found responsible, presumably Exide.
The Department of Toxic and Substance Control announced earlier this month that air pollution from Exide has possibly contaminated up to 10,000 homes with lead dust, a significantly wider area of contamination than earlier believed.
De León has been a critic of the department charged with the oversight of facilities that handle hazardous materials and has taken measures to reform the department.
This year, he successfully inserted into the state budget provisions to create an independent three-person panel of experts to monitor the department, in addition to a $13 million budget increase to boost its permitting process and hazardous waste oversight operations.
Motivated by the Exide scandal, De León introduced SB 654 to improve the department’s permitting process. The department had allowed Exide to operate for decades without a state permit despite repeated violations for contaminating nearby homes and communities with arsenic, lead and other toxins.
In March, after months of increasing community and political pressure the Department of Toxic and Substance Control and the U.S. Justice Department finally ordered Exide to close.
“This is a lapse that can never be repeated,” De León said.
County Supervisor Hilda Solis said Gov. Brown should appoint an independent expert to oversee the cleanup soli contamination around the Exide facility.
She told the the Los Angeles Times that outside oversight is needed to ensure a swift cleanup of homes contaminated by decades of air pollution from the facility, and to overcome temptation by state officials and the company to delay action for financial reasons.