For 30 years, residents and workers in Vernon, Commerce, Maywood, Huntington Park, Boyle Heights and unincorporated East Los Angeles have been forced to live with contamination from a car battery recycling plant now owned by Exide.
And for 30 years Exide has been operating under a temporary permit, which state, local and county authorities apparently had no ability, or wherewithal to fully finalize or ensure that the public was not being harmed by the company’s operations.
Since when is 30 years “temporary?”
The County Health Department closes down restaurants and other businesses every day of the week when there is a concern that the public’s health could be at risk. It closes businesses down for issues that some might consider minor, especially in light of the decades long release of cancer-causing pollutants that Exide is now charged with emitting in our air and ground soil.
The AQMD is no stranger to issuing orders to close or to fining businesses found to be contaminating our air, so why has it taken so long for action to be taken against Exide’s operations in Vernon?
It isn’t because Exide has been operating under the radar all these years. Exide was cited for contaminating the environment a number of times in 2007, 2008, 2009 and yet they were not ordered to close down.
Was there something special about Exide that allowed them to continue poisoning the environment, their workers and area residents with arsenic, lead and who knows what else for so many years?
Could it be that this was just another case of government agencies refusing to cross into another agency’s jurisdiction even though they were aware of the potentially dangerous violations taking place? Or could it be that the communities most impacted are predominately low-income and “unlikely” to make much of a fuss or understand the consequences of their exposure?
The state agencies involved in the permitting and oversight of Exide are sure to bristle at allegations that they were lax in the performance of their jobs. They will say that there was not enough evidence of wrongdoing, or regulations did not allow tougher action, or they were working with Exide to come up with solutions, or say that ultimately the system worked and Exide was shut down.
While there could be merit in some of their reasoning, it should be clear that in the case of Exide, for 30 years the system has not worked to protect the public’s health and wellbeing.
We congratulate Los Angeles City Councilman Jose Huizar for pursuing the matter so forcefully, and agree with him that an investigation is warranted in this case. We urge state legislators to join in his call for a full inquiry into this debacle.
Today marks the start of a series of public meetings in communities believed to be the most impacted by Exide’s toxic emissions, we hope they do not prove to be little more than residents being told how to avoid the contamination.
We expect the State Department of Toxic Substances, AQMD and everyone else having jurisdiction in the matter to keep Exide closed until all the public can be guaranteed that all the sources of contamination have been fixed and remediated, if that’s even possible.