EXIDE VERNON: California Assembly questions actions on Exide
Assembly Questions Actions on Exide
By Nancy Martinez, EGP Staff Writer
Years of public outrage over the Exide Technologies’ contamination of cities and neighborhoods in the east and southeast Los Angeles area finally appears to be getting the attention of state legislators, likely in response to growing accusations that California has a double standard when it comes to how it handles environmental and health emergencies in low-income Latino communities.
On Tuesday, the Assembly Committee on Environmental Safety and Toxic Materials held a hearing in Sacramento on plans to decontaminate the site of the now shuttered battery-recycling facility in Vernon believed to have contaminated as many as 10,000 homes and business with lead and arsenic, putting over 100,000 people at a higher-risk for neurological diseases and cancer.
Lea este artículo en Español: Asamblea Cuestiona las Acciones de Exide
It was the first hearing by state elected officials since protests over the plant’s repeated violations of toxic chemical emissions standards became public in 2013.
As EGP first reported, residents from East Los Angeles, Boyle Heights, Commerce, Maywood, Bell and Huntington Park have grown increasingly frustrated and angry over the “double standard” they’ve observed in the treatment of the mostly-white, affluent Porter Ranch gas leak and the blue collar, and the predominately Latino communities affected by Exide’s lead contamination.
“Maybe we should call ourselves Boyle Heights Ranch, maybe we’ll get more attention,” Rev. Monsignor John Moretta of Resurrection Church told the committee on Tuesday.
At a press conference before the hearing, Los Angeles County Supervisor Hilda Solis, Speaker-elect Sen. Anthony Rendon and Assemblyman Miguel Santiago called for the state to allocate $70 million out of next year’s budget to pay for cleaning up the most contaminated residential properties.
“An invisible disease has affected these communities, this is a case of environmental injustice,” said Solis, decrying state regulators slow progress in removing soil polluted with lead from east and southeast homes. She suggested the money could be recovered later from Exide. A lawsuit could be required.
“DTSC has not done a good job on the cleanup,” said Rendon. “We need to make sure Exide cleans up the mess it has left in our communities.”
Joining the officials at the press conference and for the hearing was a busload of residents from the impacted areas. They’d traveled to the Capitol to demand the same level of action from the state that is being given to the Aliso Canyon gas leak in Porter Ranch. They told committee members that state regulators need to speed up the removal of lead tainted soil from their homes.
So far, the Dept. of Toxic Substances Control (DTSC) has cleaned about 200 or so properties in the designated contamination zone.
During Tuesday’s committee meeting, Assemblyman Santiago repeatedly asked DTSC Director Barbara Lee whether there are obstacles they can address to increase the number of homes being cleaned every week. She did not respond directly to his inquiries, but said DTSC is cleaning three properties per week. At that rate, it will take seven years to clean 1,000 properties, complained other speakers.
“We have a death sentence, we can’t wait any longer” said a tearful Terry Cano of Boyle Heights who traveled the long distance to testify. She alleged that members of her family have died of cancer caused by Exide’s polluting of her community.
Cano also expressed her frustration with the state agency’s focus on the contamination at the now vacant Exide facility instead of focusing on places where people still live.
“This is the equivalent to responding to a burning building and firefighters respond to the fire and not the dying family,” she criticized.
Resentment is growing over Gov. Jerry Brown’s failure to personally address the Exide “catastrophe,” something he has done in Porter Ranch, where he has declared a State of Emergency.
“We can blame DTSC for the handling and enforcement of Exide and for taking so long, but we can’t blame them for the governor not giving them the money to clean up the contamination,” Mark Lopez of East Yards for Environmental Justice told EGP before the hearing.
Lee defended the agency’s actions, pointing out that 22,000 hours of staff time has already been spent working on the Exide closure. She also said the Brown Administration has been very supportive of their work, allocating $7 million in state funding for testing and cleanup.
“I can assure you the governor has us all committed to this site, it’s a priority for us.” echoed Matt Rodriguez of the California EPA,
Local elected officials, however, seemed unconvinced.
“DTSC has failed our community,” Santiago said.
Concern that money is behind the state’s slow response to the clean up.
Assemblywoman Cristina Garcia called the $8 million in the governor’s budget for the Exide Cleanup “insulting.”
“It feels like the government is just throwing pennies at brown people to keep us quiet,” she said.
She urged the committee to recommend the state dig into the reserves if it has to, to ensure the governor allocates $70 million in this year’s budget.
“We must do the right thing and show the residents from low income communities who are predominately Latino that that they are just as important as our counterparts from affluent communities.”
Jane Williams, executive director for California Communities Against Toxics, suggested state legislators consider a battery tax to help offset costs associated with the cleanup instead of waiting for Exide to allocate funds. She told the committee the battery recycler had a long history of contamination at their plants across the country.
“Exide has a pattern and practice of contaminating communities and leaving contamination behind,” she said.
Huntington Park Mayor Karina Macias testified she has spoken to many residents who are frustrated with the process and just don’t see any clear financial plan or commitment. She also expressed frustration that the committee waited until the end of the four-hour long meeting to hear from the public, the victims in the crisis.
Nearly all of those residents who traveled to Sacramento had to leave the meeting to catch their bus home, only one was left to testify.
“They’ve been waiting for too long,” she said before handing over letters from the community for the record.
Maywood Councilman Eduardo de la Riva said he did not appreciate Exide representatives at the meeting trying to shift the blame for the high levels of lead to other sources, including lead paint, nearby freeways and the industrial setting. He asked that the state agency recognize the cleanup should be their priority.
“We applaud DTSC for the steps they are now starting to take but the damage has been done,” he said. “We must act now.”
A video recording of the hearing can be viewed online at http://calchannel.granicus.com/MediaPlayer.php?view_id=7&clip_id=3327