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Residents Near Vernon Plant May Have Been Exposed To Arsenic

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(credit: CBS)

(credit: CBS)

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LOS ANGELES (CBSLA.com) — A City Council committee may take legal action over the alleged release of potentially toxic material by a Vernon-based company.

Officials with the South Coast Air Quality Management District (AQMD) said in March that Exide Technologies may have exposed more than 100,000 residents to arsenic emissions from the disposing of old batteries at its facility on 2700 South Indiana Street.

A company health risk assessment showed residents in portions of Vernon, Maywood, Huntington Park, Commerce, Boyle Heights and unincorporated areas of east Los Angeles may have been exposed to cancer-causing toxins.

Under California’s AB2588 law, commonly known as the Toxic Hot Spots program, facilities that emit toxic air pollutants must develop health risk assessments using scientific tools to estimate the risk of cancer as well as non-cancer health effects to residents.

City Councilman Jose Huizar told KNX 1070 NEWSRADIO officials with Exide may not be motivated to address the issue as quickly as the city would like.

“They have told us they will take three years to correct this problem,” Huizar said. “We are asking to see if we could as a city get this to be reduced. That’s just simply too long for a severe problem to be corrected.”

Exide — which operates in 80 countries and is one of the world’s biggest producers, distributors and recyclers of lead-acid batteries — has agreed to schedule public meetings in May in cooperation with AQMD to inform residents of the health risk and steps the company is taking to reduce the threat.

The company’s health assessment showed workers at a facility in Vernon adjacent to Exide faced a maximum cancer risk of 156 in 1 million, mostly due to arsenic emissions. Residents living downwind of the facility would be exposed to a much lower risk due to dispersion of toxic air contaminants over distance, according to AQMD.

Huizar, who chairs the City Council environmental committee, said while Exide has taken some steps to clean up its operations, the city still may be forced to take the matter to court.

“We are not ruling out possibly looking at any action at any state agencies that may or may not have allowed this to occur as well,” he said.

AQMD officials are currently working with Exide to permit modifications to a furnace at the facility to reduce arsenic emissions in the near term, the agency said.

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