BELL (CBSLA.com) — Bell residents gathered Wednesday night to hear about the potential health hazards caused by a battery recycling factory in the neighboring city of Vernon permitted in June to re-open.
The state Department of Toxic Substances in April issued an emergency order against the Exide Technologies plant on 2700 South Indiana Street, citing air and ground pollution violations.
Officials warned the 110,000 residents living in Boyle Heights, Maywood and Huntington Park they may have been exposed to dangerous levels of the chemicals, which could pose a relatively high cancer risk, and the plant was temporarily shut down.
A Town Hall meeting was called by Bell City Councilman Nestor Valencia, who observed the three-hour meeting alongside concerned residents, including Juan and Margaret Soto, who sat in the front row with their daughters, three and five.
The girls were the reason they attended the meeting about what the plant’s ongoing operation means for residents in Vernon, Bell and communities miles away.
As KCAL9’s Dave Bryan reports, the news was troubling.
“I told him we will need to go. We have kids. We need to know what their future has living here in the city,” Margaret Soto said.
Her husband, Juan, is concerned executives at Exide are not being forthcoming.
“We do not know what they are doing behind their closed doors, and we are vulnerable for any type of fumes, vapors. It’s something that we don’t know. We are not aware of [the effects],” he said.
Dr. James Dahlgren, an internist who specializes in environmental medicine and toxicology, said impact will extend from Vernon to Maywood, Bell, Huntington Park and neighborhoods like Boyle Heights, reaching 110,000 people with possibly devastating results.
“The hazard of non-cancer and cancer risks are exceedingly high for miles and miles around the plant,” Dahlgren said.
“A spec of dirt can contain enough [chemicals] to be harmful. That is a problem.”
KCAL9 found workers on the re-opened plant grounds wearing required breathing apparatus.
Asked if the plant should be closed, Dahlgren was resolute.
“Absolutely, yes.” he said.
Bell City Councilman Nestor Valencia said he is outraged that air quality officials would restrict fire pit operation on beaches throughout the Southland in July, while allowing the battery plant to re-open.
“How is it AQMD (Air Quality Management District) could stop the bonfires in the beach communities and they can’t stop this battery plant?” he demanded. “And as an activist, council member I am appalled that they still have a permit.”
Experts acknowledge they need to do more environmental and medical testing to establish whether the health impacts are being caused by led and arsenic contamination coming specifically from the Exide plant. So far they say the signs definitely point in that direction.
Dahlgren said its continued operation could pose health hazards that in some cases that cannot be reversed.
“Once you are poisoned with led or arsenic there is no treatment. No effective treatment. So once damage to the brain occurs, once they develop diabetes, once they develop cancer, I mean we know that those things tend to be difficult to treat. The brain damage is impossible to treat,” he said.
A spokesperson for Exide was not available for comment.