EXIDE VERNON BREAKING NEWS: DTSC underestimates how many homes have been impacted by contamination from Exide’s lead smelter; Agency now says that up to 10,000 homes could be impacted, with possibly as many as 6,000 needing cleanup; Attorney: ‘It’s one of the largest public health disasters in the state if not the nation’
CLICK HERE FOR COPY OF AUG. 13 DTSC PRELIMINARY ESTIMATE OF DISTRIBUTION OF EXIDE’S LEAD EMISSIONS IN SOIL
CBS LOS ANGELES
Number Of Potentially Contaminated Homes Near Exide Plant Larger Than Originally Estimated
By Randy Paige
LOS ANGELES (CBSLA.com) — A bombshell was dropped Thursday about the amount of contamination left behind by the Exide battery-recycling facility during a meeting in downtown Los Angeles.
According to CBS2’s Randy Paige, the two top state officials responsible for protecting the public health from toxic air and soil refused to allow news cameras into that meeting with community leaders.
Three weeks ago, when CBS2 first reported at least 2,000 homes were potentially contaminated, state department of Toxic Substances Control Director Barbara Lee refused to comment.
A few days later, in a community meeting, Lee said only one home had levels that were of immediate concern.
Lee said on July 24: “We have found one property that might require rapid action.”
On Thursday, the DTSC seems to have changed its mind. The department told community leaders the actual number of potentially contaminated homes is even larger than original estimates.
“According to what we were told, we’re looking about 9,000 to 10,000 homes have been affected. We don’t know the number of homes that would need to be cleaned up, but it’s believed to be around 5,000 to 6,000,” said Attorney Gladys Limon, who was inside the closed meeting.
“It’s one of the largest public health disasters in the state if not the nation,” Limon added.
The estimated cost of cleanup, according to CBS2’s sources, is at least $150 million. It remains unclear how soon work will begin nor where those funds will come from.
LOS ANGELES TIMES
The California Department of Toxic Substances Control had previously estimated a few hundred homes in Boyle Heights and Maywood would require cleanup after decades of air pollution from the now-closed Exide Technologies facility.
The department now believes that the facility’s lead emissions tainted soil up to 1.7 miles downwind, potentially requiring a much more expensive cleanup of 5,000 to 10,000 properties, director Barbara Lee said in a conference call with reporters.
The preliminary results are based on soil samples taken from 146 properties spread across a two-square mile area, including Boyle Heights, Maywood, Huntington Park and East Los Angeles, which were used to model what concentrations are likely to exist at thousand of other homes.
Though the tests found other metals that are markers of Exide’s emissions, the primary concern is lead, a potent neurotoxin that can cause developmental problems in children and has no safe level of exposure.
The department’s higher estimates were a worrisome validation for community leaders who for years fought for the plant’s closure and cleanup.
“The surprise was that it took officials so much time to come to this conclusion,” said Msgr. John Moretta of Resurrection Catholic Church in Boyle Heights. “The bad news is: Where is the money going to come from to clean this up?”
With potentially thousands more homes requiring lead removal, doing so could now cost tens or even hundreds of millions of dollars, far more than the $9 million the department had earmarked for removing soil from about 200 homes and yards closest to the facility.
In a deal struck in March with the U.S. attorney’s office, Exide agreed to pay at least $50 million to demolish and clean the 15-acre facility and remove lead contamination from nearby homes. The agreement allowed Exide and its employees to avoid criminal charges for years of releasing dangerous pollutants into the community.
In a statement, Exide said that on Wednesday it submitted to the Department of Toxic Substances Control its own analysis of the soil sampling results, concluding that soil contamination from its Vernon plant is limited.
“The area of impact from the Exide facility above background levels is confined to the industrial area that surrounds the facility and does not reach residential areas,” according to the conclusions of a study by Mitchell Small, a professor at Carnegie Mellon University the company hired to estimate the contribution of its facility’s lead emissions relative to other sources.
Beyond industrial areas “there is no consistent trend in lead concentrations, moving away from the Exide facility, as would be expected if Exide was the source of all lead in the residential area,” Exide’s statement read.
The smelter had operated in Vernon since 1922 and was taken over by Exide in 2000, melting down lead from used batteries to reuse as raw materials for new car batteries.
California officials allowed the facility to operate for 33 years with only a temporary permit, even as it racked up dozens of serious environmental law violations for releasing pollution into the air, soil and water.
Community outrage mounted in 2013, when a report released by the South Coast Air Quality Management District found that Exide’s arsenic emissions posed an increased cancer risk to 110,000 people who live near the facility.
“We’re looking at a massive public health disaster that has largely resulted from the state’s utter regulatory failure,” said Gladys Limon, an attorney for the advocacy group Communities for a Better Environment.
The toxic substances department, which is supervising the cleanup under a separate agreement with Exide, has overseen the cleanup of 146 of 217 homes in Boyle Heights and Maywood that air modeling had shown were most likely to be affected by Exide’s emissions.
A year ago, the department expanded testing to an additional 146 homes extending outward over a two-square-mile area of southeast Los Angeles County.
Results on those additional properties were released in April and shared during community meetings in May, Lee said. But the estimates of widespread contamination were not available until an additional metals analysis was completed in July.
Lee first revealed that thousands of homes could be contaminated at a closed meeting with community groups late Thursday.
Last month, the toxic substances department issued a report that said more than 8,000 soil samples at 146 properties in the expanded testing area around the Exide plant “did not find any pattern of dangerous levels of lead contamination” and “an emergency does not exist.” Only 1% of lead samples were above 1,000 parts per million, the report said.
The toxic substances department removed the two-page report on the testing results from its website two weeks ago after outcry at a July 23 meeting of a community advisory group that was formed earlier this year to monitor the cleanup and closure of the Exide plant.
The department said it removed the document “because it summarizes information in a way that caused concern within the community.”
On Friday, Lee reiterated that no properties had high enough lead levels to require immediate action under the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s guidelines.
Lee said she was trying to find money to pay for cleanup even as her department seeks additional funding from Exide and other parties that contributed to the contamination. She did not have an estimate of the cost of expanding the soil removal to potentially thousands of properties, but said “it’s going to be an expensive cleanup.”
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