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East LA Residents Demand Testing, Cleanup Near Exide Battery Plant

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EAST LOS ANGELES (CBSLA.com) — East Los Angeles residents are demanding cleanup efforts near the Exide Technologies battery recycling plant expand amid fears toxic contamination is more widespread than originally thought.

Hazardous-materials workers Monday began removing lead-contaminated dirt from the yard of a home near the Vernon plant.

But KCAL9′s Randy Paige reports community leaders are calling for further action in the wake of testing which shows widespread lead contamination affecting as many as 450 homes in the area.

“We want the whole community cleaned up,” one activist said.

A random sample of 37 homes near the plant tested positive for lead contamination in a preliminary screening. More detailed testing of two of the homes revealed even higher levels.

Ramya Sivasubramanian, attorney for the Natural Resources Defense Council, said the results were staggering.

“The California (Environmental Protection Agency) sets a health screening level of 80 parts per million. … And what we’re looking at is in the thousands,” she said.

Paige reports state officials have ordered Exide to remove all soil to a depth of 18 inches at the two most-affected homes and to conduct more-detailed testing at the remaining 37 contaminated homes in the initial screening.

Exide is also ordered to pay for the testing and cleanup of the hundreds of homes in designated affected areas at the request of the homeowners.

Families who live nearby, meanwhile, watched Monday as the workers arrived and continue to wonder what the contamination means for their homes and for the health of their children.

“It kind of worries me because I have a baby and I have a little sister, brothers,” Boyle Heights resident Jarintzi Maya said.

Rizgar Ghazi, chief of the office of permits for the Department of Toxic Substances Control, told Paige the properties will be cleaned up.

“We definitely are going to force Exide to clean it up; however, if Exide decides to walk away, the DTSC believes we will clean it up. DTSC will clean it up,” he said.

Ghazi is asking homeowners in the area to join the effort by allowing their homes to be tested as well.

UPDATE: Exide Technologies said in a statement Monday they would replace the soil in the yards of two houses north of Vernon at the request of the California Department of Toxic Substances Control, or DTSC.

“Exide is committed to doing our part and working collaboratively with state regulators on this clean-up,” Thomas Strang, Exide’s vice president of environment health and safety, said in a statement. “We recognize concerns in the community and are taking steps to address the two sites.”

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