COMMERCE (CBSLA.com) — Neighbors of the shuttered Exide battery recycling plant in Vernon showed up to a packed community meeting on Wednesday night to express their outrage with the lack of progress that has been made in testing and cleaning up lead contamination in the soil.
As many as 10,000 homes in southeast L.A. County are believed to have soil tainted by lead contamination from the battery plant’s emissions, which spewed for decades until the plant closed in March. But the state has thus far only tested lead levels at 146 homes.
“We are the victims of your catastrophic failures,” one community member said, addressing state toxic regulators.
Barbara Lee, director of the California Department of Toxic Substances Control (DTSC), said much of the problem is a lack of funding for the cleanup.
She told KCAL9’s Randy Paige that the department has a budget of only $8 million for a cleanup that is estimated to cost in the hundreds of millions of dollars. Lee said she believes the $8 million will last the department through June.
Residents said that’s simply not good enough.
“It doesn’t add up,” community activist Father John Moretta siad. “A first grader can tell you it doesn’t add up,”
On Tuesday, the LA County Board of Supervisors authorized $2 million to help speed up the cleanup. The County funds will go towards hiring contractors who will perform tasks such as soil monitoring, which the supervisors hope will speed up the state’s efforts.
Supervisor Hilda Solis, who represents Boyle Heights and other communities neighboring the battery recycling plant said at Tuesday’s meeting that the state was dragging its feet.
As part of the motion to authorize the county funds for the cleanup effort, the supervisors also said they would set a timetable for the state, Exide and other “responsible parties” to conduct the cleanup, and improve communication with residents about the cleanup effort.
Residents on Wednesday said they are frustrated by the lack of communication from the state about the health risks they face and the status of the cleanup.
“I haven’t come across anyone who has received any education from the DTSC on the dangers of lead contamination and other emissions coming from Exide,” said Mark Lopez, a community organizer who has gone door-to-door to educate neighbors on the health risks of living in the area.
In addition to concerns about the health of children playing in contaminated backyards, several people who live in the area around the Exide plant have recently been diagnosed with cancer or severe respiratory illnesses.