Monday, September 04, 2017

State Regulators Say Soil At Over 10,000 Homes In Southern California May Have Been Affected By Lead Emissions Drifting From Now-Shuttered Battery-Recycling Plant; Company Denies Fault, Points Finger Elsewhere

In Los Angeles, California, the Los Angeles Times reports:
  • By this fall, California’s Department of Toxic Substances Control plans to begin removing lead-tainted soil from 2,500 residential properties near the shuttered Exide Technologies battery recycling plant in Vernon.

    The cleanup — the largest of its kind in California history — spans seven southeast Los Angeles County neighborhoods, where plant operations have threatened the health of an estimated 100,000 people.

    More than two years after the possibility of federal criminal charges forced the plant to shut down, however, the state has refused to release crucial information about the contamination and cleanup requested by lawmakers, community members and reporters.
    Regulators say lead emissions from the Exide plant drifted across an area of more than 10,000 residential properties spanning seven communities: Bell, Boyle Heights, Commerce, East Los Angeles, Huntington Park, Maywood and Vernon. The affected neighborhoods are predominantly Latino, with about 30% of people living in poverty; the countywide poverty rate is 18%.

    Crews so far have tested the soil of more than 8,200 properties. In its July 6 cleanup plan, the state summarized sampling results for more than 7,000 of those — and more than 98% showed lead levels exceeding 80 parts per million, California’s health standard for residential soil.

    The toxic substances control department has released spreadsheets containing detailed sampling data on about 1,900 residential properties, and recently made public the addresses and parcel numbers of a few dozen child care facilities where crews sampled the soil or detected elevated lead levels. But the department has not released the precise locations of homes tested.

    The Times has sought sampling results by parcel, address, map coordinates and block number, based on the public’s right to know the extent of contamination and how the government is spending public funds.

    The toxic substances department argues that disclosing such information would compromise residents’ privacy, expose sensitive health information and discourage participation in soil sampling and cleanup. Though the data pertain “to soil lead levels, not personal blood lead levels,” department lawyer James Mathison said in a March letter, “there is a potential correlation to be made between identifying particular locations with high soil lead levels and correspondingly high blood lead levels” of people living there.

    More than half of the households surveyed recently by county health officials reported that they have not received results from the soil testing completed in their yards. Figures released by the toxics department show that as of late July, it had yet to send results to more than 2,000 parcels — about one-quarter of those tested.

    Officials said more results are being mailed to residents weekly.

    Georgia-based Exide, which acquired the plant in 2000, has said its lead emissions did not extend into residential areas — and has pointed the finger at other industries, lead-based paint in older homes and past emissions from vehicles.

    The company filed a lawsuit last year seeking blood lead data on people tested in L.A. County, including each person’s age, city and ZIP Code; the age of the home in which each person lived; and any causes of lead poisoning. The state is fighting the lawsuit in court, calling it an attempt by Exide to dodge financial responsibility and blame the contamination on lead paint and gasoline.

For more, see What we know about California's largest toxic cleanup: Thousands of L.A. County homes tainted with lead.

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