EXIDE VERNON BREAKING NEWS: Supervisor Hilda Solis on Exide cleanup funds: ‘Two Americas’ for too long
Gov. Jerry Brown announced Wednesday he wants the state to spend $176.6 million to test and cleanup thousands of homes contaminated with lead near the closed Exide battery recycling plant in Vernon.
The additional funds expands Brown’s previous commitment of spending an additional $7 million this year on the Exide cleanup.
“This Exide battery recycling facility has been a problem for a very long time,” Brown said in a news release. “With this funding plan, we’re opening a new chapter that will help protect the community and hold Exide responsible.”
Local and state lawmakers recently called for Brown to expand the amount of money allocated to the cleanup effort. Some cited the speedy action taken by the state in relation to the Porter Ranch gas leak.
Brown declared a state of emergency in Porter Ranch on Jan. 6, about two months after the leak was discovered.
“Our voices were heard,” Supervisor Hilda Solis said in a statement. Solis, whose district includes Vernon, was among the lawmakers who called for more funding. “For too long we have seen two Americas: one in which affluent neighborhoods get immediate help and relief. The other America is made up of poor working-class families who silently suffer. Today’s announcement from the governor reconciles these two Americas. Today’s announcement is a step in the right direction.”
State Assemblyman Jimmy Gomez (D-Los Angeles) agreed, saying the governor’s action sends a message that the state values environmental fairness and equity.
“I think Porter Ranch actually put a spotlight on these kinds of issues,” Gomez said in an interview. “I think it put a spotlight on how different parts of the state are treated.”
He said the response to the Porter Ranch gas leak was likely more immediate because the symptoms of the gas leak were more apparent than the long-term illnesses associated with lead exposure.
“When you don’t see people getting sick right away, you don’t think they are actually ill,” Gomez said. “I think the acute illnesses people were experiencing in Porter Ranch were real. I think it put a focus once again on Exide and East Los Angeles.”
Exide, which declared bankruptcy, released contaminants into the air for decades. The state reports that the contaminants have reached a 1.7-mile radius surrounding the plant and have affected potentially 10,000 homes.
State Department of Toxic Substances Control Director Barbara Lee said in a conference call with reporters the proposed $176.6 million is the largest appropriation of funds towards a single cleanup effort.
She said the department had been working with the governor on the plan for months. She said it was unrelated to the gas leak near Porter Ranch that has spewed 94,067 metric tons of methane since Oct. 23 from the Aliso Canyon storage facility, according to the California Air Resources Board.
“We’ve been working on this long before the issue around Porter Ranch came up and in fact, the department has not been involved in the Porter Ranch issue at all,” Lee said.
A Brown spokesman also said the Exide funding and response to Porter Ranch were unrelated.
“Both are serious and both merit strong action,” spokesman Evan Westrup said.
The $176.6 million will allow the state to test thousands of homes and remove lead-contaminated soil from 2,500 homes, schools, parks and day-care facilities, Lee said.
The money will also allow the DTSC to create tests to identify the agencies responsible for the contaminants, including Exide. The state will seek to recoup the cleanup expenses from responsible parties.
The state estimates the cost of cleaning one home is approximately $45,000.
Gomez called the $176.6 million a “down payment.” He said more money will be needed to clean the sites and to help families who have suffered negative health impacts.