EXIDE VERNON BREAKING NEWS: Gov. Brown urged to appoint independent oversight of cleanup of possibly up to 10,000 homes contaminated with toxic lead dust from Exide smelter
A Los Angeles County supervisor is urging California Gov. Jerry Brown to appoint an independent expert to oversee a soil cleanup of potentially thousands of lead-contaminated homes surrounding a shuttered battery recycling plant in Vernon.
Supervisor Hilda Solis, who represents communities around the Exide Technologies plant, says outside oversight is needed to ensure a swift cleanup of homes contaminatedÂ by decades of air pollution from the facility, and to overcome temptation by state officials and the company to delay action for financial reasons.
The California Department of Toxic Substances Control, which is overseeing the cleanup of soil contaminated by the facilityâ€™s lead emissions,Â announced last weekÂ that soil testing shows the facility deposited toxic dust across a wider area of southeast L.A. County than previously estimated, possibly fouling as many as 10,000 homes.
Lead is aÂ powerful poisonÂ that can cause learning disabilities, behavioral problems and diminished IQs in children, who canÂ ingest the dustÂ when they play in the dirt. Removing theÂ metalÂ fromÂ thousands of homes wouldÂ becomeÂ the largest cleanup of its kindÂ in California and could ultimately cost hundreds of millions of dollars.
Solis said the governorâ€™s office mustÂ intervene to ensure the state toxic substances department acts with greater urgency and is able to secureÂ funds to pay for the immediate cleanup of the 1,000 most contaminated properties.
â€œWe can’t afford to wait another week, two weeks,â€ Solis said in an interview. â€œWe need immediate action.â€
Solis also called for the state to establish a commission to investigate the long history of pollution at Exide, to look into â€œwhat exactly happened and who is responsible.â€
The governorâ€™s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
California officials allowed the battery recycler to operate for 33 years with only a temporary permit, even as it racked up dozens of violations for releasing pollution into the air and water, sparkingÂ fierce protest from community groups and lawmakers.
In March, Exide struck a deal with the U.S. attorneyâ€™s office toÂ shut downÂ the lead-acid battery smelter, whichÂ had been in operation since 1922. To avoid criminal charges, the Georgia-based company agreed to spend $50 million to clean and demolish the plant and to remove lead from the soil of surrounding homes.
A company spokeswoman declined toÂ comment Thursday.
Solis’ commentsÂ echoes the demands of community groups who have accused state toxics regulators of being slow to acknowledge the extent of contamination in their neighborhoods and of dragging their feet with the cleanup. Over the last year, the department has removed and replaced lead-contaminated soil from the 146 homes closest to the plant in Maywood and Boyle Heights, at a cost of about $45,000 each.
But the idea couldÂ face an uphill battle inÂ Sacramento.
Senate leader Kevin de Leon (D-Los Angeles), a past critic of the state’s regulationÂ of Exide and other hazardous waste operations, said Thursday that he does not support outside oversight because it would addÂ “more layers of bureaucracy.”
“The bureaucrats at the county and state need to stop pointing fingers at each other,” De Leon said. “A better use of their time is cleaning up the neighborhoods and making sure Exide pays for it.”
The call forÂ independent oversightÂ and investigationÂ comes ahead of a public meeting that toxics regulators and air quality officials have scheduledÂ on the Exide matterÂ Thursday evening at the Huntington Park Community Center. Solis first raised the ideaÂ Wednesday in opinionÂ articlesÂ published inÂ the Huffington PostÂ andÂ La Opinion.
â€œThe public deserves a thorough and independent investigation into what happened and why it was allowed to happen,â€ Solis wrote. â€œIt seems inarguable that the institutions charged with protecting these communities failed to fulfill this duty. We must not let this happen again.â€