Hoping to Improve Public Image, Vernon Urges Action by AQMD
AQMD officials say it has already notified the public about health risks.
By Nancy Martinez, EGP Staff Writer
Worried the public thinks Vernon is not doing enough to protect residents living in and around the city from harmful lead and arsenic emissions by Exide Technologies, city officials on Tuesday unanimously approved a resolution calling for the local air quality district to issue a health advisory for Southeast Los Angeles County in response to recent findings that emissions at the Vernon-based lead battery recycler have exceeded safety standards.
Lea esta nota EN ESPAÑOL: Con Fin de Mejorar su Imagen, Vernon Urge Acción por AQMD
Vernon is asking the South Coast Air Quality Management District (SCAQMD) to issue the advisory, similar to smog and smoke alerts sent out by the agency that include immediate steps residents should take to protect themselves from exposure.
The request from Vernon officials is unusual. It is unclear what if any impact it will have since those types of advisories are usually issued when air quality is poor and not after the unhealthful condition has already passed. Vernon officials said that they will continue to press AQMD to issue the alert even though weeks have passed since the unsafe emissions were recorded.
Mayor W. Michael McCormick said the city also plans to urge surrounding municipalities to do the same and will be send a copy of Vernon’s resolution to the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors and the city councils for Los Angeles, Commerce, Maywood, Bell and Huntington Park. They will also send it to congressional and state representatives and urge them to send letters to AQMD.
“We feel more steps can be taken to protect the health and lives of residents and workers in the city of Vernon as well as those other potentially affected communities,” said Vernon Health Director Leonard Grossberg.
AQMD officials have not yet received Vernon’s formal request,but AQMD Media Relations Manager Sam Atwood told EGP the agency has already done its part in informing the public.
“The notification has already taken place,” he said, noting the 8 public meetings held by AQMD in Commerce, Huntington Park, Vernon, Boyle Heights and City Terrace, and the agency’s website where extensive information can be found regarding Exide.
But the available information and public meetings seem to have generated more animosity toward Vernon, making the industrial city a target for blame by residents and activists frustrated that Exide has been allowed to continue to operate despite exceeding safe lead and arsenic emissions levels, which most recently caused AQMD to issue a notice of violation to the battery recycler and ordering them to cut production by 15 percent.
Grossberg told EGP that the resolution was “necessary.” He said it makes the city’s concern public, and will help “force the action back to AQMD,” which he says has the power to regulate Exide, not Vernon.
“[Residents and activists] point an accusing finger at Vernon for Exide being [in the area] and polluting their community,” said Grossberg. “There’s a concern that we haven’t done everything we can and we don’t want to give an impression that we’re protecting a business in Vernon.”
If the AQMD finds there is no reason to issue such an advisory, they should explain to the public why Exide’s emissions do not merit an advisory, he said, deflecting blame and control over the issue away from the city.
Grossberg is also quick to point out that Exide has only exceeded the lead and arsenic levels contained in its operating permit, not statutory limits, even though an AQMD health risk assessment conducted earlier this year resulted in Exide being issued a notice of violation and an order to notify over 250,000 residents of their increased cancer risk due to higher than allowed emissions of lead and arsenic
Vernon knows AQMD could choose to not issue an advisory, but the city feels asking for one may be all they can do, said Grossberg, who also told the council Vernon lacks the statutory authority to regulate air quality. The city can, however, regulate and enforce local zoning codes, but Grossberg says suggestions by some that Vernon should amend zoning codes or find other ways to shut Exide own would later be found to be “unconstitutional.”
Vernon City Manager Mark Whitworth said the resolution will “up the ante” in making AQMD address the fear and frustration of residents over Exide’s continued operation.
Residents in the city and surrounding areas want to know what they can and “should do to protect themselves and loved ones” from the harmful emissions, said Whitworth.
On Tuesday, Councilman Richard Maisano and Mayor Pro Tem Davis expressed concern over AQMD’s reluctance to issue an advisory. “We believe AQMD can do more to help the residents fully understand their immediate and long term health risks,” said Davis.
However, Councilman Michael Ybarra, who agreed the resolution was something the city had to pass, said actions taken so far by the air management district have not alleviated the risk to people living and working in the area.
“[Exide] cuts back [15%] but what is that going to do? If something is malfunctioning that’s the problem,” he said. “I don’t think the cause has been addressed.”
AQMD’s Atwood told EGP the agency is currently reviewing Exide’s risk reduction plan and will attend a Town Hall meeting on Exide being held Tuesday Oct. 8. in Boyle Heights.
“Our focus is on getting Exide to reduce its emissions.”
Tuesday, Oct. 8
6-8pm–Senator Kevin De Leon will host a Town Hall Meeting on Exide Technologies at Resurrection Church in Boyle Heights. Regulators will update the public on efforts to reduce lead emissions from the facility. Resurrection Church is located at 3324 Opal St, L.A. 90023. For information, call (213) 483-9300 or email Senator.firstname.lastname@example.org.
October 3, 2013 Copyright © 2012 Eastern Group Publications, Inc.