EXIDE VERNON BREAKNG NEWS: Los Angles County soil testing finds widespread lead contamination near Exide plant
By Abby Sewell
Los Angeles County public health officials who tested the soil outside 500 homes in the area surrounding the now-closed Exide battery recycling plant in Vernon found all but eight have levels of lead that will require cleanup.
The findings came in a report released Tuesday by the county’s Department of Public Health to the Board of Supervisors.
After complaints by residents about the slow pace of state testing and cleanup, the county launched its own testing.
Interim Director of Public Health Cynthia Harding said the 12 county teams had tested about 50 homes a day between Feb. 29 and March 9, using special equipment that allowed the testing to be done in the field.
Of the homes tested, 45 had lead levels in the soil that qualified as hazardous waste, county officials said. An additional 179 had lead levels that exceeded the federal residential action level and 268 were below that level but above the level the state has identified as requiring cleanup.
The county teams are also testing soil at the Dorothy Kirby Center, a county lockup for juvenile offenders in Commerce, but those results are not yet available, Harding said.
Supervisor Hilda Solis likened the county’s efforts to push for remediation to a David and Goliath fight.
“I feel as if we’re David, and we’re up against some very big lobbying guns up there,” she said.
The state Department of Toxic Substances Control is overseeing the cleanup of properties contaminated by the battery recycling plant, which was closed more than a year ago under a deal with federal prosecutors. Community groups had complained of pollution from the facility for years.
County public health nurses have been visiting the homes found to have elevated lead levels to give them information about blood testing and ways to minimize the health impacts, Harding said.
THE WEATHER CHANNEL
Widespread Soil Contamination Affects More Than 100,000 California Residents
The former Exide battery recycling plant has released high levels of lead and arsenic into the environment of the Los Angeles County communities surrounding it, putting more than 100,000 people at risk. (California Department of Toxic Substances Control )
Between Feb. 29 and March 9, 12 county teams tested about 50 homes daily, California Department of Public Health (CDPH) Interim Director Cynthia Harding told the Los Angeles Times. All but eight of the 500 homes had levels of lead requiring cleanup, while 45 of the homes had soil lead levels that qualified as hazardous waste.
Another 170 homes had lead levels exceeding the federal residential action level, the Times also reports. Though 268 homes were found to be below that level, they were still above the level the state identified as needing cleanup.
Public health officials analyzed data from nearly 12,000 young children and found that the blood lead levels of kids under the age of six living near the now-closed facility are higher than those living farther from it, according to a release from the state Department of Toxic Substances Control (DTSC). Almost 4 percent of young kids within a mile of the site had levels of 4.5 micrograms of lead per deciliter of blood or more.
They also discovered that about 2 percent of kids living farther than a mile, but still within the study’s broader Exide analysis area, showed high blood lead levels.
Workers test soil that may contain high amounts of lead caused by the former Exide battery recycling plant in Vernon, California. (California Department of Toxic Substances Control )
“The California Department of Public Health’s analysis is an important component of our understanding of the public health impacts from lead in the vicinity of the Exide facility,” said DTSC director Barbara Lee. “They pulled together a tremendous amount of data and provided valuable insights that will be factored into our sampling and cleanup work. We appreciate their effort.”
These findings add to previous samples collected by the DTSC, which showed more than 200 homes near the Exide plant with lead-tainted soil in need of removal, according to Reuters. The agency estimates that deposits of lead dust from the plant extend into neighborhoods within 1.7 miles of the facility.
According to the DTSC release, older homes also play a large role in the toxic levels, as they are more common in the areas closer to the facility. Older housing has often been linked to lead hazards because lead content in paint was not strictly limited until 1978.
CDPH researchers found that about 3 percent of young children living in areas near Exide in homes built before 1940 had high blood lead levels, compared to 1.8 percent of children living in homes built after 1940 had elevated levels. A sub-study including detailed data on the age of individual homes found an increased likelihood of higher blood lead among children living in a home built before 1925.
In one of the biggest toxic cleanup efforts undertaken in the state of California, the battery distributor and state Department of Toxic Substance Control have contributed millions of dollars to rectify the situation.
On Feb. 17, Governor Edmund G. Brown Jr. proposed a $176.6 million spending plan to expedite and expand soil testing and cleanup of lead in the communities around the former facility. Under that plan, DTSC will test all residential properties, schools, daycare centers, and parks within a 1.7-mile radius, and estimates it will clean up contaminated soil at up to 2,500 properties with the highest lead levels and greatest potential for exposure.
To date, more than 1,000 properties have been sampled and over 200 properties have been cleaned up in the area.
In 2013, DTSC ordered Exide to provide free blood lead testing for those living in the area and in early 2015, the agency refused to grant a permit for the facility’s operation, effectively shutting it down.
Exposure to high levels of lead increase the risk of cancer, breathing diseases and learning problems.