EXIDE VERNON: Tired of waiting for State regulators, LA County begins soil testing in neighborhoods impacted by lead contamination from Exide smelter
County Begins Own Soil Testing Near Exide
Assessor says he will review impact on property values.
By Elizabeth Marcellino, City News Service
Tired of waiting for state regulators, county teams are working in neighborhoods affected by contamination from the now-closed Exide battery plant to test soil and offer resources to residents, the Board of Supervisors was told Tuesday.
Supervisor Hilda Solis said residents deserved quick action.
“For over three decades, the Exide battery plant operated on a temporary permit. During that time, the company rained arsenic, benzene and lead down on its neighbors,” Solis said. “For too long, the concerns of nearby residents went unheard or were ignored.”
The Department of Public Health has a dozen three-person teams testing soil at 45-50 homes per day, the department’s interim director, Cynthia Harding, told the supervisors.
The Exide plant permanently closed in March 2015, but “left behind a legacy of environmental contamination in Maywood, Huntington Park, Boyle Heights, Commerce and East Los Angeles” reaching out in about a 1.75-mile radius, Harding said.
Though gaseous plant emissions are no longer an issue, lead contamination in the soil, which can cause developmental delays and cognitive impairments, remains a concern.
The county estimates that up to 10,000 homes could have lead contamination, with about 10 percent of those expected to show levels qualifying as hazardous waste.
In one bit of good news, the deputy director of the department’s Health Protection Division said only about 6 percent of the homes evaluated to date have shown that highest level of contamination.
DPH teams, which work with an outside contractor, offer results to residents one day after testing soil outside their homes, according to Solis.
“They’re going to get results the next day,” Solis said. “That’s something that (the Department of Toxic Substances Control) should have been doing all along.”
If lead contamination is found, public health nurses meet with families recommend blood tests for any children living in the home. Those tests are provided free of charge by the county.
To date, 398 homes have been tested by county workers and officials hope to reach a goal of 500 by March 15.
“It’s really critical that all 10,000 homes get assessed,” Harding told the Board of Supervisors.
Even more important, Solis said, is finding out from state regulators, “How immediately will they begin the cleanup?”
Last month, Gov. Jerry Brown proposed an additional $176.6 million for further testing and cleanup, but those funds are subject to approval of the state budget.
As of year-end, DTSC workers had removed more than 10,000 tons of contaminated soil, analyzed more than 20,000 soil samples from hundreds of properties and cleaned up 186 residential yards.
The fallout from the contamination could also have an affect on property values, County Assessor Jeffrey Prang said Monday.
Prang said he will review the values of properties affected by lead and other contamination from the Exide battery recycling plant to see if any tax relief could be offered to their owners.
“I have deep concern for those affected by Exide’s contamination of their property,” Prang said. “It is my responsibility to ensure all properties are fairly assessed and provide tax relief when warranted. Consequently, I have ordered my office to identify any and all avenues to help property owners during this difficult time.”
Affected properties are thought to be in Boyle Heights, Vernon, Maywood, Huntington Park, Commerce and other areas.
Property and business owners typically need to fill out a form to request such a review, but Prang’s office will go ahead and pull up the assessment records to take another look, according to Prang spokesman Michael Kapp.
The decline-in-value review looks at whether a property’s current market value is less than the assessed value as of Jan. 1 of the previous year.
Any tax relief would not affect this year’s tax bill, but may affect a future bill, Kapp said. There is also a possibility that depending on when the property was purchased, the decline in value may not be enough to result in a lower tax bill, he said.
Property owners with questions about the review can call the assessor’s office at (626) 258-6001.