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EXIDE VERNON MEDIA ROUNDUP – Second phase of cleanup of lead-contaminated soil from homes near Exide lead smelter begins

EGPNEWS.COM

Exide Residential Cleanup Continues

By Nancy Martinez, EGP Staff Writer

On the quiet block of La Puerta Avenue in Boyle Heights, a small bobcat bulldozer was in high gear last week, removing dirt from homes where high levels of lead were found.

At least one hundred wheelbarrows of tainted soil were removed from two homes on the block early Thursday, part of an ongoing effort to clean up contamination residents and toxic chemical experts say are tied to emissions from Exide Technologies in Vernon.

“How many years have gone by and we didn’t even know the damage [Exide] was doing,” said Jovita Morales, one of the homeowners whose soil was removed.

The South Coast Air Quality Management Department in 2013 found several times that emissions from Exide had higher than safe levels of arsenic and lead, increasing the risk of cancer and neurological deficits to as many 110,00 residents living near the acid-lead battery recycler.

DTSC workers remove contaminated soil from a home in Boyle Heights. (EGP photo by Nancy Martinez)

State regulators have ordered Exide to make major changes to pollution control systems at its Vernon plant, and to pay for the clean up contamination at homes like those on La Puerta Avenue.

While not admitting any culpability, Exide agreed to pay for blood lead tests for area residents who are concerned about their exposure. Testing, conducted by the county health department, started in  April. So far, only 450 people have taken advantage of the free blood tests, but none those tested “required medical intervention,” according to the county. The low number of tests has prompted the testing period to be extended for the second time until Jan. 30, according to county health officials.

Earlier this year, state regulators identified 215 homes in Boyle Heights and Maywood as having the highest likelihood of being impacted by Exide emissions. The Dept. of Toxic Chemical Substance Control, DTSC, ordered the company to pay for soil testing and more recently to put $9 million into a fund to be used to clean up all 215 homes.

As of Monday, only 104 of those homes had been tested, according to DTSC. Nineteen of the homes were labeled priority one, the highest priority based on lead levels found and whether there are children or pregnant women living in the home. Priority one homes will cleaned first, according to DTSC, which says it will continue to reach out to property owners to encourage them to get their properties tested.

DTSC Director of Communications Jim Marxen told EGP the state agency wants the process to go as quickly as possible, and has asked Exide to clean up 2.5 homes a week.

“We believe Exide is responsible” for remediating the damage, he said.

Marxen pointed out that [the plant] has been operating since 1920, nearly 100 years.

“For that extended period of time, this [assessment area] is probably the place their emissions ended up,” he said.

[Addendum: It should be pointed out that the Vernon plant itself has existed since 1920, however Exide Technologies has only been operating the plant since 2000.]

Lea este artículo en Español: Exide Continúa LImpieza en Hogares Cercanos

The two residential properties on La Puerta Avenue, which sits near the industrial side of town on the border of East Los Angeles, are the latest homes to be cleaned. Soil was removed from two homes in August; one in Maywood the other also on La Puerta Avenue.

“We are aiming to get at least five homes [clean] before the holidays,” said Marxen. “Our target is to get a least 10 to 12 homes cleaned by the third week of January,” he added.

But getting residents to sign up to get their soil tested has proven difficult, says Marxen.

Though there could be a number of reasons why testing is not complete in the assessment area, many residents may find themselves in the same situation as longtime resident Jose Ornelas, 79, who has rented the La Puerta Avenue house where he lives for 28 years.

“There was some confusion because the letters they sent were addressed to me,” he said in Spanish.

If it had not been for Ornelas contacting the owner, soil on the property would not have been tested last month.

Lucia Flores, 72, said she initially didn’t want to go through the process of having her soil tested because she wasn’t sure what would be expected of her as a homeowner.

“It took me a long time to grow these plants for someone to just come and cut them,” she half-jokingly said.

However, once the soil is tested, the results are analyzed and labeled as priority one, two, three or below threshold, says Marxen. So far all 104 homes tested have been above the allowed threshold, he added. According to DTSC, 19 homes were labeled priority one, 35 priority two and 31 priority three.

DTSC will meet with the residents at least three times to explain the test results and set up a cleaning schedule, which includes soil replacement, dust control measures, air monitoring and yard restoration that includes keeping plants deemed sensitive by the owner.

Residents do not have to be at their home while the weeklong clean up takes place, in fact they can opt to stay elsewhere at Exide’s expense, according to DTSC.

On Monday, Flores said she is waiting for the results of tests conducted back in October.

“I worry about my granddaughter who lives here,” she said in Spanish, as she watered the plants in her yard. “I have heard the [Exide] plant is bad for our health,” she said.

Exide’s Vernon plant has been closed since March as it installs enhanced systems to comply with California’s air quality standards. The company has invested $35 million on environmental, health and safety measures since 2010.

“We recognize the community’s concerns and are confident the Department’s tough new order provides strong regulatory oversight for cleaning the identified residential properties,” said Thomas Strang, Vice President of Environment Health and Safety for Exide.

“Exide is committed to operating a premier recycling facility and working collaboratively with regulators to perform all work necessary to reach his goal,” he said.

Marxen told EGP the agency hopes the visibility of the cleanup will encourage neighbors to get their yards sampled.

Morales saw the clean up taking place back in August and though about contacting DTSC out of concern for her grandchildren, ages nine and four months, who live in the home.

“We just never got around to doing it because we get home from work late,” she said. “A lot of my neighbors may be in denial, but this clean up is good for the residents.”

The cleanup up cost per property will vary according to the amount of soil to be removed and property type.

If there are still funds left in the $9 million community trust fund after the initial group targeted for testing is completed, the remaining money will go towards expanding testing and cleaning beyond the original assessment area, and for testing of commercial properties in areas adjacent to the Vernon plant.

“Wherever we find contamination that we can link to Exide we are going to make them clean it up,” said Marxen.

Residents in the two assessment areas can contact DTSC for information about cleanup at (844) 225-3887.  

[Correction: An earlier version of this article identified Jim Marxen simply as DTSC Director.]

Twitter @nancyreporting

nmartinez@egpnews.com

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CBS LOS ANGELES

Exide Plant Begins to Remove Lead-Contaminated Soil From Neighboring Homes

December 4, 2014, 9:00 PM

BOYLE HEIGHTS (CBSLA.com) – A battery-recycling facility in Boyle Heights has started to remove lead-contaminated soil from neighboring homes after results released for 85 of the homes tested indicated the existence of lead.

Jim Marxen of the state Department of Toxic Substances Control said all of the 85 homes will need to be cleaned.

According to the agency, though, top priority will go to 19 homes with lead in the soil that exceeds 1,000 parts per million, which is enough lead to classify the soil as “hazardous waste.”

The highest level was more than 3,000 parts per million in one home; however, the allowable level is 80.

“It means we need to get it out of there,” Marxen said. “Particularly if we have homes with a female who is pregnant and young children who could play in the dirt.”

The cleanup is being paid for by Exide Technologies

“We want to do the right thing to make sure we take care of people’s concerns in the community,” said Thomas Strang, Exide Technologies’ Vice President, Environment Health & Safety

The lead-acid-battery recycling facility has been operating under various companies without a full permit for more than three decades.

But a recent law signed by Gov. Jerry Brown will require the state to either issue a permit or shut down the plant by the end of next year.

Strang says Exide wants the permit and has put $15 million worth of equipment into the plant to lower emissions.

Salvador Chavez’s home was first to be decontaminated and says his yard is now safe for his 17 grandchildren.

But more than half the eligible homeowners have not allowed their homes to be tested for lead, according to KCAL9’s Randy Paige, who says the DTSC hopes reluctant homeowners come around.

In total, 103 homes have been tested but results weren’t released for the remainder.

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NBC LOS ANGELES

Second Phase of Exide Recycling Plant Cleanup Begins

Cleanup began on the second phase of Exide mitigation at Los Angeles homes, though Toni Guinyard reports from Boyle Heights on Friday, Dec. 5, 2014, on NBC4’s News at Noon. (Published Friday, Dec 5, 2014)

The second phase of the cleanup of two residential neighborhoods near the Exide battery recycling plant in Vernon began Friday.

Crews began removing contaminated soil from two yards in Boyle Heights that contain concentrations of lead that could pose a risk to young children or women who are pregnant.

Dept. of Toxic Substance Control Hotline: 844-225-3887

In total, 19 homes in two neighborhoods in Boyle Heights and Maywood contain similar levels of lead, and will receive first priority for cleanup.

These two neighborhoods were identified by the South Coast Air Quality Management District as the most likely to be impacted by lead emissions from the Exide battery recycling plant in Vernon.

“We have kids here so we’re concerned about them,” said Albert Labrada, a neighbor of the two homes where excavation began Friday.

Contaminated soil being removed was covered by tarps, to stop particulate matter from getting airborne, which air quality monitors were watching for.

State orders

Exide was previously ordered by the State Department of Toxic Substances to put aside $9 million to clean up the two neighborhoods.

Last year, the state ordered operators of the plant to conduct testing in nearby neighborhoods north and south of the plant for environmental contamination by lead, arsenic, and other substances.

report released in March disclosed that concentrations of lead in excess of 80 parts per million (ppm) were found in the yards of 39 homes. Eighty ppm is deemed a “screening” threshold; California Public Health considers concentrations in excess of 400 ppm to be potentially harmful, especially to young children whose brain development can be impaired by lead poisoning.

“We recognize the community’s concerns and are confident the Department’s tough new order provides strong regulatory oversight for cleaning the identified residential properties,” said Thomas Strang, an Exide vice president.

Resident concerns

Residents, environmental activists, and a number of Los Angeles County officials contend the plant, which dates to the 1920’s, has posed a threat to public health.

Exide maintains there is no evidence of a direct link between its plant and the lead found in the yards, but pledges continued cooperation with government regulators.

It is well-documented that two now-forbidden uses of lead as a chemical additive–in gasoline and in paint–released lead into urban environments over a period of decades.

The state Department of Toxic Substances also ordered Exide to set aside $38.6 million for cleanup costs if the Vernon plant ever closes.

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