VERNON (CBSLA.com) — Gov. Jerry Brown on Wednesday proposed spending $176.6 million to expedite and expand the testing and cleanup of homes, schools and parks near the former Exide battery recycling plant in Vernon.
The announcement came as a great relief to residents whose homes were contaminated by the plant.
“I’m in shock. I’m happy and I’m almost excited,” said Terry Cano, a single mother in Boyle Heights whose lawn was found to have hazardous levels of lead contamination. “It’s not enough money to fix the whole issue but it is a start.”
The lead-acid battery recycling plant was closed in 2014, with Exide agreeing to pay $50 million for cleanup of the site and surrounding neighborhoods. In August, $7 million in emergency funding was approved to test up to 1,500 homes, parks, schools and daycare centers.
The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors approved an additional $2 million last October to help speed up the cleanup of the contaminated soil.
“This Exide battery recycling facility has been a problem for a very long time,” Brown said in a statement. “With this funding plan, we’re opening a new chapter that will help protect the community and hold Exide responsible.”
The governor’s plan comes after a series of reports by CBS2/KCAL9 detailing hazardous levels of contamination in yards, such as at Cano’s home, which has been in her family since the 1930’s.
State Senator Kevin DeLeon credited that reporting with
“(Gov. Brown) was keenly aware of what was happening, through interviews that we’ve done on KCBS,” DeLeon said. “It had an impact in the state capital.”
Brown’s plan was outlined in a letter to the chairs of the Senate and Assembly budget committees. The funds would ensure the cleanup of all homes, schools, daycare centers and parks within a 1.7-mile radius of the shuttered facility, where lead levels are highest and potential exposure the greatest.
“The governor has stepped up for thousands of Angelenos victimized by an irresponsible and bankrupt company,” Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti said in a statement. “Only government can defend the most vulnerable among us. Governor Brown has exercised that responsibility with an urgent call for resources to test and clean up thousands of homes in the Boyle Heights neighborhood.”
According to an analysis from the Department of Toxic Substances Control, releases from the 15-acre facility deposited lead dust across an area of southeast Los Angeles County, resulting in contamination extending nearly two miles from the facility and impacting up to 10,000 homes, parks and schools.
As many as 1,000 homes may be found to have toxicity that qualifies as hazardous waste, and the price tag to clean up the area could run in excess of $400 million, Supervisor Hilda Solis said in October.
Gaseous plant emissions are no longer an issue since the plant has been shut down, but lead contamination in the soil could cause developmental delays and cognitive impairments. A public health spokesman also cited an increased risk of cancer linked to other chemicals once emitted by the plant.
To date, more than 10,000 tons of contaminated soil has been removed from homes around the shuttered facility.
LA County Supervisor Hilda Solis, whose district includes areas affected by the lead contamination, said the money would be a good start. But she said there are still an unknown number of health problems to address in the community, too.
“It still doesn’t help the person who has developmental disabilities or brain injuries, or spinal injuries, or cancer or liver disease,” she said. “Those things still have to be fixed.”
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