DTSC Set to Release Exide Preliminary Cleanup Plan

Critics want the agency to move faster.

By Nancy Martinez, EGP Staff Writer

The battle to close the controversial Exide Technologies plant in Vernon has now become a battle over how quickly and thoroughly homes contaminated by the now-shuttered toxic polluter will be cleaned.

Longtime Boyle Heights resident Terry Cano has been one of the more vocal residents over the years, attending every meeting hosted by the Department of Toxic Substance Control, state regulators tasked with overseeing the cleanup of properties contaminated by Exide.

She was at the meeting when DTSC and federal officials announced the U.S. Attorney had struck a deal with Exide to permanently close down and to pay for the cleaning up its hazardous waste in exchange for avoiding criminal prosecution.

Lea este artículo en Español: DTSC Listo Para Anunciar Plan de Limpieza de Exide

She was at the meeting when DTSC Director Barbara Lee apologized for the agency’s mishandling of its oversight of Exide. She was also at the meeting when residents demanded DTSC not delay testing and clean up of contaminated homes, and she will likely be at the Oct. 28 meeting when DTSC officials are scheduled to outline plans for remediating contamination of as many as ten thousand homes in a newly expanded contamination zone.

Cano, like many east and southeast area residents and environmentalists, has continued to criticize DTSC for moving too slowly with soil sample tests and the clean up of properties found to have unsafe levels of lead, leaving people, many of them children, potentially exposed to the chemical known to cause cancer, neurological deficits, learning disabilities and birth defects.

Funding and personnel shortages have been blamed for some of the delay, but this week, DTSC told EGP they want to be out in the field by the end of the year.

“We’re ready to begin this,” said Ray Leclerc, assistant deputy director for DTSC’s Brownfields and Environmental Restoration Program.

“We can start in a matter of days or weeks after that meeting,” he told EGP Tuesday, referring to the Oct. 28 meeting of the Exide Community Advisory Board, which must approve the agency’s remediation plan. The meeting will be held at Commerce City Hall at 4p.m.

According to Leclerc, DTSC has been working to hire qualified contractors and personnel to conduct the tests and, where needed, safely remove and dispose toxic soil. The targeted testing and contamination zone has been increased to properties within 1.7 miles of the Vernon plant.

DTSC workers clean a Boyle Heights home. (DTSC)

DTSC workers clean a Boyle Heights home. (DTSC)

Exide originally set aside $9 million to pay for the cleanup of 219 homes north and south of the plant in the communities of Boyle Heights, East Los Angeles, Huntington Park and Maywood.

According to DTSC Project Manager Pete Ruttan, the yards of 186 of those homes will be cleaned by the end of November. Ruttan said the remaining homes have not yet been tested because the homeowners have not given DTSC access to their properties. So far, 44 homeowners have requested and received interior cleaning, he added.

 

An additional 146 homes were tested in an area beyond the initial scoping area to determine how far Exide’s contamination had spread.

Cano lives in one of those homes.

She said she pushed regulators to test her home after her brother, son and father, fell ill. The home on Opal Street was tested a year ago in October 2014 but it wasn’t until April of this year that she received test results confirming the need for decontamination: a process that has yet to be started.

“I have had to implement a rule in my house” to protect us, Cano told EGP. “Anytime someone goes into the yard they have to immediately take a shower when they get in the house,” she said.

Leclerc said toxic regulators are working on streamlining the process to reduce the testing time down to weeks, perhaps even days. “We are looking at technology that could be used to get results instantly,” he elaborated. Adding staff will also help speed up the turnaround time, he added.

DTSC does not have a firm cost or time estimate for the entire cleanup, Leclerc told EGP, adding it could takes years.

“Before we were talking about hundreds of homes now we are talking about thousands of homes,” Leclerc emphasized. “There are a lot of unknowns, we can’t know for sure what we’re talking about until we do it.”

Some estimates have put cleanup costs between $150 million and $200 million; three to four times higher than the $50 million Exide agreed to pay for the cleanup of its site and surrounding neighborhoods. Of that amount, $26 million – to be paid out over many years – is intended for residential cleanup. As of August, Exide, which filed for bankruptcy in 2013, had paid $9 million into a trust. In August, DTSC committed an additional $7 million to continue sampling soil and initiating yard cleanup, focusing first on those properties with the greatest potential lead exposure.

On Tuesday, LA County Supervisor Hilda Solis said she’s unsatisfied with how long the process is taking and called on the state to do more to clean up contaminated soil. Solis said she will ask her colleagues on the board to spend $2 million in county money on the effort.

“This isn’t contaminated soil in a faraway deserted location,” Solis said. “This contaminated soil is in yards and parks where kids play kickball and ride their bikes and then track dirty shoes into the house. These children deserve to be able to play outdoors while not putting their health at risk

Solis said she wants the county’s money to be used to clean homes already identified as contaminated and to identify other residences in need of cleanup, a move being applauded by DTSC.

Leclerc, meanwhile, says the agency has been working diligently to develop a comprehensive plan that adequately covers the much larger area identified for testing.

“We agree we are not working as fast as would like, but we want to do it the right way.”

[On Friday Oct. 23, DTSC clarified only the exteriors – not the interiors – of 184 homes will be cleaned by the end of November.]

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Twitter @nancyreporting

nmartinez@egpnews.com

 
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October 22, 2015  Copyright © 2012 Eastern Group Publications, Inc.

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