California Regulators' Soil Cleanup Plans To Be Accelerated Around Shuttered Car Battery-Smelting Plant Blamed For Spewing Lead Contaminants Around Seven L.A. County Communities For Decades, Affecting 10,000 Homes As Well As Day Care Centers, Schools, Parks; Expected Cost: Hundred$ Of Million$
- California regulators moved [last month] to accelerate soil cleanups and other actions to prevent exposure to lead contamination at the highest-risk homes near the shuttered Exide Technologies plant in Vernon. The change of course follows months of criticism by community groups, lawmakers and health officials about government inaction.
New guidelines issued by the state Department of Toxic Substances Control will allow for a “limited number” of residential properties posing the highest risk of lead poisoning to undergo expedited, “time critical removal actions.”
The largest-ever cleanup of lead-contaminated homes in California has been at a standstill since June. The department argued previously that it could not complete any cleanups — even of homes whose lead levels amounted to hazardous waste — until a year-long environmental review is completed this summer.
The cleanup spans 10,000 residential properties as well as daycare centers, schools and parks across seven southeast Los Angeles County communities surrounding the former car battery-smelting plant, which regulators blame for emitting dangerous lead contamination over decades.
***Lead, a potent neurotoxin, is most dangerous to young children who can ingest contaminated soil or dust. Even small amounts of the metal cause permanent learning and developmental deficiencies, lower IQs and behavioral problems.
The state’s interventions at the highest-risk properties could include soil removal but could also be limited to less comprehensive measures, such as the installation of grass, mulch or rock barriers. The remediation steps would be taken only with the permission of property owners and tenants.
***Community groups and state lawmakers critical of the pace of cleanup welcomed the decision by the department to act sooner than this summer.
“We're encouraged that there are steps forward to clean up those homes with immediate health risks, but still frustrated it’s taken this long,” said Assemblyman Miguel Santiago (D-Los Angeles). He said he spent months pushing the DTSC to address “an imminent danger to people in our neighborhood.”
Mark Lopez, who directs East Yard Communities For Environmental Justice, welcomed the prospect of a quicker cleanup but fears a clumsy implementation, saying “there’s still a lack of trust in the department and how its contractors handle cleanup.”
Lopez said he was also concerned the plan signaled “that barriers and ground cover will be used instead of cleanup in favor of saving time and saving money.”
Exide agreed to close its Vernon plant permanently in March 2015 after years of environmental violations and a federal criminal investigation.
***Under legislation signed by Gov. Jerry Brown last year, California allocated $176.6 million for soil testing and remediation of properties, which officials hope to recoup from Exide and any other responsible parties.
Those funds will pay for cleaning lead from an estimated 2,500 of those parcels within a two-year period starting this summer.
Full cleanup is expected to cost hundreds of millions of dollars.
Assemblywoman Cristina Garcia (D-Bell Gardens) said  she was pleased state regulators’ decision to accelerate cleanup of the most severely contaminated homes. She urged the department to proceed “as soon as possible considering the health impacts of living with lead exposure.”
“These families have had no choice but to live in this contamination for years,” Garcia said. “They cannot afford to wait any longer. ”
For a story update, see State investigating allegations of lead-sampling problems, derogatory remarks by Exide cleanup contractor. environmental protection agency EPA Lead Paint Police