BOYLE HEIGHTS (CBSLA.com) — Several people who have lived or worked near the Exide battery recycling plant in Vernon are battling illnesses or have recently died from illnesses linked to the contaminants that poured from the plant’s smokestacks.

Salvador Andrade worked in the Exide facility for 28 years. He remembers how black smoke from the plant, a byproduct of burning as many as 40,000 used batteries a day, would cling to his clothes. Those smokestacks spewed toxic emissions for eight decades before it shut down earlier this year.

Andrade had to quit working at the plant in late 2014 due to a diagnosis of terminal liver cancer.

“He’s not just a dad. He’s a hero. He’s our hero,” Andrade’s daughter said. “Not a lot of men do that. Not a lot of men like to go and work and get dirty and go to a place of danger. That’s a place of danger.”

Andrade is just one of several people speaking out about their illnesses after prolonged exposure to the Exide plant.

Guadalupe Noriega never smoked a day in her life. Still, she died from lung cancer earlier this year.

“My mom’s not the only one,” Noriega’s daughter said. “Our neighbor next door has cancer. Our neighbor across the street, their daughter has cancer.”

Among the others are Joe and Josie Gonzalez, who died recently after suffering from severe respiratory illnesses.

It is not possibly to determine if these particular illnesses were caused by the plant. But the state estimates that somewhere between two and 20 people of 100,000 will likely get cancer from the Exide plant’s toxic emissions.

The state has recently identified 10,000 homes that will need to be decontaminated due to lead contaminants in the soil. But work has still yet to begin on the cleanup.

“Think about the children. They’re out future,” said Rebecca Madera, whose mother died from cancer. “Something needs to be done. The cleanup needs to be done soon.”

Experts agree.

Cyrus Rangan, a medical toxicologist for the LA County Department of Public Health, said the rash of respiratory ailments and cancers is alarming.

“That’s eye-popping … when you look at something like Exide and you’re looking at ongoing exposures for all those several decades,” said Rangan said. “It’s certainly not unreasonable to think that any of those diseases, if they’ve occurred in your family, could have been due to Exide.”

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