EXIDE VERNON: John Perez, speaker of California Assembly – “Exide plant a grim tale of harmful pollution”
By John A. PÃ©rez
John A. PÃ©rez is speaker of the California Assembly.
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Sometimes when it comes to cleaning the air, stories come along that can muddy the waters.
Thatâ€™s what happened in two instances here in California: the fight against fire rings in Orange County and the complaints about health issues and noxious odors coming from the Sriracha plant in Irwindale.
Those stories have received statewide and even national attention because they include components of broad media appeal: the beautiful sands of our Southern California beaches with the fire rings; and a wildly popular hot sauce that represents our ever-broadening cultural tastes, with Sriracha.
Meanwhile, however, another very serious air-quality story is playing out in blue-collar communities of Los Angelesâ€™ east side, with less attention outside the local media, even though the situation threatens entire neighborhoods and could make changes to childrenâ€™s lungs and bloodstreams that may last them a lifetime.
The air these communities breathe is contaminated by arsenic and lead. The greatest risk to their lives may well be the simple fact that they live near the Exide lead battery recycling plant in Vernon. We are currently waiting for the results of blood and soil testing to find out just how serious the damage is.
The story of Exide is a decades-long cycle of emissions violations, patchwork responses, and then business as usual. This time it has to be different. This time we have to end the cycle once and for all. Either Exide is regulated sufficiently so it cleans up its act and operates in a way consistent with public health and safety, or the determination must finally be made that the plant cannot operate safely and must cease operations.
Progress is being made. The governing board of the South Coast Air Quality Management District (SCAQMD) just met to consider new emission rules on emission standards that would limit the amount of arsenic and other contaminants that can be released into our air from lead-acid battery recycling facilities. They voted 10-0 to tighten limits on arsenic, benzene and 1,3 butadiene. They also approved recommendation to come back to board later this year to tighten lead requirements.
This latest hearing was part of a multi-pronged approach to Exide that includes hearings by the SCAQMD on a potential order of abatement, and additional inquiries by the city of Los Angeles and the California Department of Toxic Substances Control. In each step taken by these entities, public health and safety has to drive the ultimate decision making.
This grim and gritty tale of the communities dealing with the Exide plant lacks the media-friendly details that made the Orange County fire rings or the Sriracha plant stories so widespread, and the actions to respond to them so prompt. But it is no hyperbole to say lives are at stake in the Exide story, and there must be sufficient attention paid and public pressure brought to bear to ensure that regulators seize the opportunity to do the right thing for public health and safety.