EXIDE VERNON: DTSC plans rollout of jobs and development training program that could train impacted residents to test for environmental damages like those they’ve encountered from Exide lead smelter
Exide: From Brownfield to Classroom
By Nancy Martinez, EGP Staff Writer
East and southeast Los Angeles County area residents could soon be trained to test for environmental damages like those in their own backyard.
The Department of Toxic Substances Control plans in coming months to roll out a job and development training program open to residents living in the areas impacted by lead contamination from the now shuttered Exide battery recycling plant in Vernon.
“This is truly a unique program and a first for DTSC,” says Ana Mascarenas, assistant director for environmental justice and tribal affairs for DTSC. For once, the “local community can benefit directly and be a part of restorative justice,” Mascarenas told EGP.
The $176.6 million Exide cleanup package signed by Gov. Brown last week includes $1.2 million to train local groups and residents in skills required to take part in the testing and cleanup process.
DTSC, the state regulatory agency overseeing the Exide cleanup, is currently consulting with experts in the job-training field to develop its program, and they will solicit input from the community during an Exide Advisory Committee meeting being held today.
Mascarenas told EGP that DTSC plans to model its program after the California Environmental Protection Agency’s, CalEPA, Brownfields Environmental Workforce Development and Job Training program, which has prepared local residents to clean up contaminated properties while at the same time preparing them for careers in environmental remediation.
“We want this program to prepare residents for green jobs that will help to immediately clean up the neighborhood, while providing a long term [positive] impact for the community’s economy,” Mascarenas said.
Assemblyman Miguel Santiago’s 53rd District includes many of the communities polluted by Exide, and he is the author of the bill funding the Exide cleanup and training program. He told EGP that creating jobs in the state’s third poorest district was an important consideration.
“The least the state can do is offer jobs to the community it dumped on for decades,” he said.
“The community is in desperate need of jobs and must be cleaned up,” he said, explaining the dual benefit to communities like Boyle Heights and Vernon.
The idea to include a clause promoting the use of local businesses and to give local residents the skills needed to be part of the decontamination effort is the results of hours spent listening to constituents testify at Exide-related public hearings, explained Santiago.
“When money is expended, I want to make sure it is expended in the impacted district and used to provide local jobs,” he told EGP.
While details for the training program are still in the works, it’s likely those who sign up will have to commit 12 to 16 weeks to the program, which will include lead awareness classes, certifications and exposure to tools used for remediation.
“These certificates will not be exclusive to just Exide,” said Mascarenas, “they can apply these skills to DTSC cleanup sites across the state.”
Completing the training, however, is not a guarantee for employment, emphasized DTSC, although DTSC and state legislators will stress the importance of hiring those trained through the program to the contractors hired to cleanup residential properties, clarified Mascarenas.
Mark Lopez, executive director for East Yards for Environmental Justice, told EGP the community wants reassurance local hiring is not just promoted but required.
East Yards, together with other community activists, have drafted language detailing their ideal local hire and workforce development program, including a demand that at least 50 percent of all jobs created directly or indirectly by the cleanup effort be performed by local hires, with 20 percent specifically set aside for low-income residents.
Training will vary by position. Some groups will simply be trained to do outreach, something DTSC has been doing for months.
Members of East Yards, for example, have already been going door to door in the communities surrounding the Exide plant to get the access agreements needed to test for lead.
“We want to understand the intimate details involved with the clean up so that we can communicate that to the community,” explained Lopez explained.
Lopez told EGP he would like to see students from the YouthBuild Charter Schools in Boyle Heights and East Los Angeles benefit from the program. As a dropout recovery school, students at YouthBuild often suffer from learning disabilities, circumstances surrounding violence and issues that can be correlated to exposure to lead, he pointed out DTSC expects to have cleaned up 250 homes by June, using funds previously obtained from Exide and the state. The agency is waiting on the results of a still to be conducted environmental impact report before it continues with the cleanup of 2,500 additional homes, hopefully beginning sometime next spring.
Over 40 eastside residents have already been trained and certified to operate the XRF devices being used to sample soil on properties near Exide.
DTSC says it wants to have hundreds of local residents trained and ready to start when remediation, which could take at last two years, gets underway. Soil testing will continue in the meantime, Mascarenas said.
The Exide plant was permanently closed March 2015 after operating for decades on a temporary permit, even after repeatedly being found to have exposed more than 100,000 people to dangerous levels of lead, arsenic and other chemicals and collecting dozens of hazardous waste violations.
“In many ways, this will help to remediate the damage done to the community,” acknowledges Lopez.