Condado Quiere que DTSC Acelere Limpieza de Exide

March 2, 2017 by · Leave a Comment 

Las autoridades sanitarias del condado dijeron, el 28 de febrero, que están presionando a los reguladores estatales para que aceleren la limpieza de unas 400 viviendas cerca de la planta de reciclaje de baterías Exide en Vernon que tienen niveles de residuos de plomo peligrosos.

Las 400 viviendas que fueron examinadas para determinar si existe la presencia de plomo en sus terrenos mostraron niveles superiores o iguales a 1,000 partes por millón, según Angelo Bellomo, subdirector del condado para la protección de salud.

“Creemos que hay suficiente evidencia para … acelerar la limpieza (de la tierra en esas propiedades)”, dijo Bellomo a la Junta de Supervisores.

Sin embargo, el DTSC está considerando otros requisitos – además de los niveles de contaminación – al decidir cómo emprenderán la limpieza de viviendas individuales.

Estos factores incluyen si los niños menores de 7 años o si las mujeres embarazadas viven en un sitio contaminado y si los residentes tienen un nivel de plomo en la sangre equitativo o superior a cinco microgramos por decilitro, según la guía publicada en el sitio web de la agencia.

Las autoridades del condado no están de acuerdo con eso.

“Todos los que viven en una casa (con niveles igualitarios o superiores a 1,000 ppm) … necesitan la mitigación de la contaminación … y necesitan la mitigación de inmediato”, dijo la directora del Departamento de Salud Pública, Barbara Ferrer. “Eso significa la remoción de la tierra y no la simple colocación de un plástico por encima”.

Bellomo dijo que esperaba que los esfuerzos de limpieza inicial pudieran comenzar en abril.

“Siento que (el Departamento Estatal de Control de Sustancias Tóxicas) está tratando de hacer lo correcto, pero parece que van muy lentos”, dijo la supervisora Hilda Solis.

La documentación del DTSC requiere un proyecto de plan de limpieza e informe de impacto que se finalizará en junio y con el empiece de la limpieza en el verano. La portavoz de la agencia confirmó que las proyecciones de tiempo aún se mantienen pero que los sitios de riesgo podrían ser tratados antes.

Las propiedades con contaminación entre 400-1,000 ppm también satisfacen los niveles regulatorios federales para la limpieza y los funcionarios públicos de salud calculan que los niveles deben ser inferiores a 80 ppm para eliminar el riesgo del plomo.

La propuesta del DTSC requiere que la tierra se limpie y se deje por debajo de 80 ppm y los contratistas de las agencias están todavía en proceso de probar los niveles de comunidades circundantes. La agencia reguladora estima que podría manejar la limpieza de un promedio de 50 propiedades por semana y que el trabajo sería completado en dos años.

El estado y el condado están discutiendo si la limpieza dentro de los hogares está justificada, de acuerdo con Bellomo, el condado tiene el argumento de que los interiores deben ser al menos evaluados y posiblemente limpiados.

“Los líderes comunitarios también están enfatizando esto”, le dijo Bellomo a la junta directiva.

La agencia dijo en diciembre que ofrecería limpieza interior, pero no especificó en cuales casos ni tampoco si esa limpieza sería para alcanzar estándares medioambientales específica o para lidiar con las consecuencias de la remoción del suelo.

La discusión sobre el progreso de DTSC fue motivada cuando Solís pidió una actualización sobre las quejas de los trabajadores empleados para hacer las pruebas de los suelos.

Algunos trabajadores contratados por el DTSC alegaron que fueron forzados a manipular datos de pruebas, trabajar en condiciones inseguras que los exponen al suelo contaminado y que son objetos de comentarios racistas y despectivos por gerentes del campo dijo el consejero adjunto del condado, Robert Ragland.

Las acusaciones han sido referidas a la oficina del Procurador General del Estado.

“Creo que la investigación acaba de comenzar”, dijo Ragland, añadiendo que el condado estaba esperando los resultados de esa revisión.

DTSC “alienta a las personas potencialmente afectadas a que examinen los niveles de plomo en su sangre” y ofrece una línea directa para los residentes con preguntas sobre la limpieza al (844) 225-3887.

Paquete Legislativo de Asamblea Busca Reformar al DTSC

February 2, 2017 by · Leave a Comment 

La legislación destinada a cambiar la forma en que el estado regula y controla a sus instalaciones como la clausurada planta de Exide Technologies en Vernon, fue introducida a la Asamblea Estatal el martes.

Los miembros de la asamblea, Cristina García (D-Bell Gardens), Jimmy Gómez (D-Los Ángeles), Eloise Gómez Reyes (D-San Bernardino) y Miguel Santiago (D-Los Ángeles) presentaron el AB245-249, un paquete de cinco recomendaciones hechas por el Panel de Revisión Independiente del Departamento de Control de Sustancias Tóxicas.

Read this article in English: Assembly Bill Package Aim to Reform DTSC

La legislación trata una serie de cuestiones en la agencia reguladora, desde la obtención de fondos y el otorgamiento de permisos hasta el cumplimiento y el alcance público.

“El objetivo de este paquete legislativo es tener un Departamento de Control de Sustancias Tóxicas más transparente, responsable y receptivo para que las comunidades sean más seguras y saludables en todo California”, dijo el presidente de la Asamblea, Anthony Rendón, en un comunicado en el que anunciaba los proyectos de ley.

La Asamblea 245, redactada por Gómez, tiene como objetivo el endurecer los requisitos del aseguramiento financiero de las instalaciones de residuos peligrosos. Esto, con el fin de asegurar que reserven los suficientes recursos monetarios para cubrir el costo de limpieza de cualquier contaminación que causen. El proyecto de ley también requiere que DTSC lleve a cabo audiencias públicas en las comunidades afectadas cuando una institución solicite la renovación de su permiso.

AB249, también redactada por Gómez, aumenta el número máximo de penas que el DTSC pueda evaluar a causa de infracciones para coincidir con el número que pueda ser emitido por los reguladores federales.

Los proyectos de ley son una clara respuesta a las críticas del público acerca de cómo el DTSC manejó el problema de Exide. La planta operó durante décadas con un permiso temporal, mientras acumuló docenas de residuos peligrosos y violaciones de emisiones tóxicas de aire. Exide cerró en 2015, sin embargo la limpieza de la planta y de las comunidades circundantes contaminadas con el plomo ha sido lenta, obstaculizada por la falta de fondos.

“Estas dos medidas nos ayudarán a evitar otro desastre tóxico como el que experimentamos con Exide”, dijo Gómez.

EGP intentó comunicarse con DTSC para hablar sobre el paquete legislativo que muchos dicen es respuesta al manejo inadecuado de la agencia pero DTSC dijo que no comenta sobre legislaciones pendientes.

En su informe publicado el 20 de enero, sin embargo, el Panel de Revisión Independiente reconoce que el departamento de regulación química tóxica ha mejorado su forma de operar.

“El IRP cree que el Departamento tiene un mejor dominio sobre su recuperación de costos a comparación de los años previos y ha puesto en marcha una base sólida para el futuro”, explica el informe.

El paquete legislativo también asume la cuestión de el por qué se permiten instalaciones como Exide y otros productores de residuos tóxicos.

Para evitar que otra instalación de productos químicos peligrosos logre operar con un permiso temporal, como lo hizo Exide durante décadas, el AB 248 requiere que las instalaciones completen sus solicitudes de renovación de permisos dos años antes de que se expiren.

Reyes dijo que su proyecto de ley reformaría un “proceso agotado que ha permitido que las instalaciones de residuos peligrosos sin revisiones adecuadas sigan operando”.

Si se convierte en ley, la legislación de Santiago intensificará el monitoreo del aire alrededor de las instalaciones de desechos peligrosos. De acuerdo a Santiago, AB246 promovería el uso del vallado perimetral por los poseedores de permisos de las instalaciones de residuos peligrosos.

García, quien consiguió que se aprobara una legislación que agrega una tarifa a cada batería de ácido-plomo vendida en el estado para ayudar a pagar por la limpieza de la contaminación, ahora ha propuesto la ley AB247. La ley busca crear una fuerza de trabajo estatal que revise y modifique las políticas existentes para reducir el envenenamiento a causa del plomo en el estado.

“Exide fracasó gracias a varios niveles del gobierno, durante un largo período de tiempo”, dijo García, reconociendo la necesidad de una revisión y supervisión más estricta de las agencias estatales.

Se espera que los proyectos de ley tengan su primera audiencia durante el mes de marzo.

Assembly Bill Package Aim to Reform DTSC

February 2, 2017 by · Leave a Comment 

Legislation intended to change how the state regulates and reviews facilities like the now shuttered Exide Technologies plant in Vernon, was introduced in the State Assembly Tuesday.

Assemblymembers Cristina Garcia (D-Bell Gardens), Jimmy Gomez (D-Los Angeles), Eloise Gomez Reyes (D-San Bernardino) and Miguel Santiago (D-Los Angeles) introduced AB245-249, a five-bill package rising out of recommendations made by the Department of Toxic Substances Control’s Independent Review Panel.

Lea este artículo en español: Paquete Legislativo de Asamblea Busca Reformar al DTSC

The legislation tackles a slew of issues at the regulatory agency, ranging from securing funding and permitting to enforcement and public outreach.

“The goal of this legislative package is a more transparent, accountable, and responsive Department of Toxic Substances Control – and safe and healthier communities throughout California,” Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon said in statement announcing the bills.

Assembly 245, authored by Gomez, aims to toughen the financial assurance requirements for hazardous waste facilities to ensure they set aside sufficient monetary resources to pay for the cleanup of any contamination they cause. The bill would also require DTSC to hold public hearings in the impacted communities when a facility applies to renew its permit.

AB249, also authored by Gomez, increases the maximum number of penalties DTSC can assess for violations to match the number that can be issued by federal regulators.

The bills are a clear response to public criticism of DTSC’s handling of Exide, which operated for decades on a temporary permit, all the while accumulating dozens of hazardous waste and toxic air emission violations. The lead battery recycling plant closed in 2015, however the cleanup of the plant site and surrounding communities contaminated with lead has been slow moving, hindered by lack of funding.

“These two measure will help us avoid another toxic disaster like we experienced with Exide,” Gomez said.

EGP reached out to DTSC for comment on the legislative package that lawmakers say is the direct result of the department’s poor handling of the Exide contamination disaster, but was told DTSC does not comment on pending legislation.

In its report published Jan. 20, however, the Independent Review Panel acknowledges there has been some improvement in how the toxic chemical regulatory department operates.

“The IRP believes the Department has a much better mastery of its cost recovery backlog than it did a few years ago and has put in place a strong foundation for the future,” the report states.

The legislative package also takes on the issue of how facilities like Exide and other toxic waste producers are permitted.

To avoid another facility using hazardous chemicals being allowed to operate with a temporary permit, as Exide did for decades, AB 248 – authored by Reyes –requires those facilities to complete their permit renewals applications two years before they expire to allow ample time for regulators to review.

Reyes said his bill would reform a “drawn out process that has allowed hazardous waste facilities without adequate review to continue operating.”

If signed into law, Santiago’s legislation will step up air monitoring around hazardous waste facilities. According to Santiago, AB246 would promote the use of fence line monitoring by hazardous waste facility permit holders.

Garcia, who successfully got legislation passed that adds a fee to every acid-lead battery sold in the state to help pay for the cleanup of lead contamination, has now proposed AB247, legislation to create a statewide lead taskforce to review and modify existing polices and procedures in an effort to reduce lead poisoning in the state.

“Exide was a failure for many levels of the government, over a long period of time,” Garcia said, acknowledging the need for a more stringent review and oversight of state agencies.

The bills are expected to have their first hearing sometime in March.

Exide: Estado Acelera Limpieza de Viviendas Con Altos Niveles de Plomo Después de Largo Retraso

January 19, 2017 by · Leave a Comment 

Los reguladores ambientales estatales anunciaron el jueves que permitirán una limpieza acelerada de los hogares de alto riesgo cerca de la previa planta de reciclaje de baterías Exide Technologies en Vernon. Esto será permitido incluso antes de que se complete un plan de mitigación a su totalidad y una revisión ambiental.

El Departamento de Control de Sustancias Tóxicas dio a conocer un borrador del plan de limpieza e informe del impacto ambiental para su revisión pública en diciembre. Las operaciones de limpieza se esperan comiencen este verano para mitigar el suelo contaminado con plomo y las propiedades cerca de la planta.

Sin embargo, ese horario provocó críticas entre algunos de los residentes y funcionarios del área que dijeron que algunas de las propiedades cerca de la planta están en un riesgo particularmente alto.

Un negocio en el Este de Los Ángeles orgullosamente promueve baterías de autos de la marca Exide. (EGP)

La planta de Exide fue permanentemente cerrada en marzo de 2015. (EGP)

Funcionarios del DTSC dijeron el jueves que avanzarán con las limpiezas en una base de “caso por caso” en un número de propiedades limitadas “con altos niveles de plomo en el suelo y con las mayores exposiciones a los sectores vulnerables de la población”.

“Estamos utilizando todos los recursos que tenemos a nuestra disposición para asegurarnos de que podamos proteger a las poblaciones más sensibles que han sido impactadas por la presencia del plomo en el suelo a causa de las operaciones de Exide”, dijo la directora de DTSC, Bárbara Lee.

La agencia considerará acelerar la limpieza de las propiedades que tengan tierra con niveles de plomo de 1,000 partes por millón o más. La agencia también considerará limpiar las propiedades con residentes que “tengan un nivel de plomo en la sangre de o por encima de cinco microgramos por decilitro, el nivel utilizado por los Centros para el Control y la Prevención de Enfermedades de EE.UU. para identificar a los niños con niveles elevados de plomo en la sangre”.

La asambleísta Cristina García, quien representa a algunas de las comunidades afectadas, dice estar satisfecha con las nuevas directrices de la agencia estatal.

Miembros de la comunidad durante reunión discutiendo la planta Exide. Foto de EGP

Miembros de la comunidad durante reunión discutiendo la planta Exide. Foto de EGP

“Vamos a asegurarnos de que las directrices se implementen rápidamente, ya que es imperativo que las casas con la mayor contaminación se limpien tan pronto sea posible teniendo en cuenta los efectos en la salud de vivir expuestos al plomo”, dijo García en un comunicado de prensa.

“Estas familias no han tenido más remedio que vivir en esta contaminación durante años. No pueden esperar más”, agregó.

Cuando Exide acordó cerrar la planta de reciclaje de baterías de plomo, se comprometió a pagar $50 millones por la limpieza del sitio y de los vecindarios circundantes.

De esa cantidad, $26 millones están destinados a ser reservados para la limpieza residencial. El gobernador Jerry Brown firmó a principios de este año una legislación que otorgaba $176.6 millones en fondos para pruebas ambientales y trabajos de limpieza en vecindarios alrededor de la planta ahora cerrada.

Funcionarios estatales dijeron que el financiamiento pagaría por pruebas de propiedades residenciales, escuelas, guarderías y parques dentro de un radio de 1.7 millas de la planta, y financiaría la limpieza de hasta 2,500 propiedades con los mayores niveles de plomo.

El DTSC publicó el Informe del Proyecto de Impacto Ambiental y el Plan de Acción (Limpieza) Correctiva para la limpieza residencial. El público tendrá hasta el 15 de febrero para revisar el documento y hacer conocer sus comentarios.

Una reunión pública se llevará a cabo hoy a las 9 p.m. en el Ayuntamiento de Maywood, para proporcionarle la oportunidad a los interesados de presentar sus comentarios en persona. Una segunda reunión está programada para el sábado, 28 de enero a las 9 a.m. en la Iglesia de Resurrección en Boyle Heights.

Exide: After Long Delay, State Moves to Speed Cleaning of Homes With Highest Levels of Lead

January 13, 2017 by · Leave a Comment 

State environmental regulators issued guidelines Thursday that will allow expedited cleanups of high-risk homes near the shuttered Exide Technologies battery-recycling plant in Vernon even before a full mitigation plan and environmental review are completed.

The Department of Toxic Substances Control released a draft cleanup plan and environmental impact report for public review in December, with cleanup operations to mitigate lead-contaminated soil and properties near the plant anticipated to begin this summer.

That schedule, however, sparked criticism from some residents and area officials who said some properties near the plant are at particularly high risk.

DTSC officials said Thursday they will move forward with cleanups on a “case-by-case basis” at a limited number of properties “with high levels of lead in the soil and the greatest exposures to sensitive populations.”

“We are utilizing all of the resources at our disposal to ensure that we are able to take action to protect the most sensitive populations impacted by the presence of lead in the soil from the Exide operations,” DTSC Director Barbara Lee said.

The agency plans to consider for expedited cleanup properties that have soil with lead levels of 1,000 parts per million or more. The agency will also consider cleanups at properties were a resident
“has a blood-lead level at or above five micrograms per deciliter, which is the level used by the U.S.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to identify children with elevated blood-lead levels.”

The Exide plant permanently closed in March 2015. When Exide agreed to close the lead-acid battery recycling plant, it committed to pay $50 million for cleanup of the site and surrounding neighborhoods. Of that amount, $26 million is meant to be set aside for residential cleanup.

Gov. Jerry Brown earlier this year signed legislation providing $176.6 million in funding for environmental testing and cleanup work in neighborhoods surrounding the now-shuttered plant.

State officials said the funding would pay for testing of residential properties, schools, day care centers and parks within a 1.7-mile radius of the plant, and fund cleaning of as many as 2,500 properties with the highest lead levels.

Exide Draft EIR Comment Period Extended

January 5, 2017 by · Leave a Comment 

The public comment period for the Exide residential draft cleanup plan and environmental impact report has been extended by 15 days, the Department of Toxic Substances Control announced.

The state agency, charged with overseeing the cleanup of the now-shuttered Exide plant, will now be accepting comments from the public, through Wednesday, Feb. 15. Smelting operations at the Exide plant – located on the 2700 block of South Indiana Street – were shut down by state regulators in March 2014 after exposing an estimated 110,000 eastside and southeast residents to cancer-causing and neurological damaging toxins. The facility was permanently closed the following year by federal regulators after racking up dozens of hazardous waste violations.

The lengthy document was released Dec. 14 and covers how DTSC will undertake the state’s largest residential cleanup, which includes the removal of contaminated soil from properties within 1.7 miles of the Vernon-based battery recycling facility.

Last year Gov. Jerry Brown signed into legislation a $176.6 million loan to expedite and expand testing to approximately 10,000 properties and cleanup of about 2,500 properties at greatest risk to exposure.

Five public information sessions and three public meetings will be held between Jan. 10 and Jan. 28.

The draft EIR is available for review at several local libraries and here. For more information, call toll free (844) 225-3887.

Final EIR for Demolishing Exide Plant Released

December 15, 2016 by · Leave a Comment 

When the public was presented the draft closure plan for the now shuttered Exide battery recycling plant a year ago, dozens of residents, environmental activists and health experts took issue with some of the details, including safety protections for workers. They were also worried that the dismantling of the site could result in the recontamination of nearby communities.

Some of those concerns have been addressed in the Final Environmental Impact Report (FEIR) for the closure approved and released Dec. 8 by the Department of Toxic Substances Control (DTSC), the state regulatory agency handling the cleanup of the Vernon facility and surrounding communities.

DTSC has also just released the Draft Environmental Impact Report and Draft Remedial Action (Cleanup) Plan for the residential portion of the cleanup process, which is expected to undergo the same level of public scrutiny during the 45-day public comment period that ends at 5 p.m. on Jan. 31, 2017.

Smelting operations at the Exide plant – located on the 2700 block of South Indiana Street – were shut down by state regulators in March 2014, but not before exposing an estimated 110,000 eastside and southeast residents to cancer-causing and neurological damaging toxins. The facility was permanently closed the following year by federal regulators after racking up dozens of hazardous waste violations with near impunity.

Many of the recommendations submitted by the public are contained in the Final EIR for the plant closure, “resulting in a clearer analysis” and in several instances “modifications to the project and environmental mitigation,” according to DTSC.

An Exide worker at the Vernon plant in 2014 when it was still in operation. (Photo by Patrick Connor)

An Exide worker at the Vernon plant in 2014 when it was still in operation. (Photo by Patrick Connor)

The agency specifically responded to issues repeatedly raised during public meetings held at the beginning of this year and submitted in written form, related to concerns about worker health and safety, the removal of lead from on-site kettles, and the routes trucks transporting hazardous waste from the site will travel.

Over the last three years, at dozens of public meetings and hearings, those same groups have also demanded a safe and thorough cleanup of homes, parks, schools and other properties contaminated with lead and other toxic chemicals released by the Exide plant.

The just released draft EIR for that effort is a preliminary outline of the process DTSC plans to use to achieve that goal. As required by law, the 45-day public comment period for the draft cleanup plan and EIR gets underway today, with several public information sessions scheduled to take place in early January.

Mark Lopez, executive director of East Yards for Environmental Justice, told EGP he is disappointed both documents were released during the holiday season, when residents tend to be busy and less likely to have the time needed to review such extensive reports.

Smelting operations at the Exide plant in Vernon were shut down by state regulators in March 2014. (Photo by Patrick Connor)

Smelting operations at the Exide plant in Vernon were shut down by state regulators in March 2014. (Photo by Patrick Connor)

“This is the worst betrayal of trust and transparency that has happened in a while,” Lopez said about the timing, noting he had not yet reviewed the draft EIR but wants to make sure it addresses problems he witnessed in the handling of the first stage of the residential cleanup involving 200 or so homes near the Exide plant.

DTSC Director Barbara Lee said she considered delaying the release of the document until after the holiday but ultimately decided against it.

“What we have consistently heard from community members is that getting the document out to be looked at, at the earliest time is the primary objective,” she said during a call with the press Wednesday.

Assemblyman Miguel Santiago, who represents most of the neighborhoods impacted by Exide, said he was pleased that DTSC has finally released the documents for public review.

“This toxic and hazardous facility has been allowed to plague our community for far too long,” said Santiago. “I’m going to continue to demand that this clean-up happen in both a quick and quality manner and I’m prepared to engage legislatively with our community stakeholders to make sure that happens.”

Earlier this year, Lopez was among many who opposed reigniting the 100-ton kettles at the Exide plant as part of the lead removal strategy outlined in the draft closure plan. The concern being that the method could lead to recontamination.

“The kettle issue just didn’t seem to be headed in the right direction,” he told EGP Tuesday.

DTSC representatives could only document the comments made by the public during the review process, and not respond directly to his concerns until now. In the report released this month, the agency states it plans to reject the proposal to re-melt the lead in kettles after determining the method did not meet safety standards or protect the public, and points out there are alternatives to achieve the same goal.

DTSC also agreed that public comments concerning protections for workers were warranted. New conditions were added to the Final EIR, which require contractors to prepare a draft health and safety plan, comply with the most up-to-date standards for occupational lead exposure adopted by Cal/OSHA, even if they have not gone into effect, and to provide appropriate protection for workers operating in confined spaces.

Earlier this year, Dr. Jill Johnston, assistant professor at the Keck School of Medicine at USC, suggested the agency adopt stricter rules to prevent any more workers from being poisoned by Exide.

Residents were also concerned that transporting lead from the Vernon facility through local neighborhoods for disposal could be dangerous, potentially again exposing residents and properties to a new round of cancer-causing toxins.

Formal comments included multiple requests for zero-emission trucks to be used in the transport and for greater oversight of the transportation routes.

According to DTSC’s report, however, “There are not enough zero-emission trucks available to provide the number required by the proposed project.” The agency went on to explain that the trucks used to transport hazardous waste removed from the plant will only contribute a small percentage of construction emissions.

“The use of zero-emission trucks would not substantially lessen air quality emissions and the impact would remain significant and unavoidable.”

The agency proposes implementing tougher engine standards, restrict idling of construction equipment to 5 minutes when not in use and using electric cranes when feasible among other mitigation measures.

Exide must submit its closure implementation plan and workers’ health and safety plan for review by DTSC, and obtain all the required permits before starting work on demolishing and removing structures at the site.

The closure process is expected to begin in Spring 2017 and is expected to take up to two years to complete.

 

The draft EIR is available for review at several local libraries and at http://www.dtsc.ca.gov/HazardousWaste/Projects/UpdteExideSuspension.cfm. Five public information sessions and three public meetings will be held between Jan. 10 and Jan. 28. For more information, see DTSC’s public notice on page 7 of this newspaper, or call toll free (844) 225-3887.

 

 

Informe Final Sobre Impacto Medioambiental de Planta Exide Se Publica

December 15, 2016 by · Leave a Comment 

Cuando el público recibió el plan del proyecto de cierre de la planta de reciclaje de baterías Exide hace un año, decenas de residentes, activistas ambientales y expertos de salud se opusieron a algunos de los detalles, incluyendo las protecciones de seguridad para los trabajadores. Al igual, les preocupaba que el desmantelamiento del sitio pudiera resultar en la recontaminación de comunidades cercanas.

Algunas de esas preocupaciones han sido tratadas en el Informe Final de Impacto Ambiental (FEIR) para el cierre aprobado y publicado el 8 de diciembre por el Departamento de Control de Sustancias Tóxicas (DTSC), la agencia estatal reguladora que maneja la limpieza de las instalaciones de Vernon y de las comunidades circundantes.

DTSC también acaba de publicar un borrador del Informe del Impacto Ambiental y Proyecto de Plan de Acción Correctiva (Cleanup) para la parte residencial del proceso de limpieza. Se espera que el plan se someta al mismo nivel de escrutinio público durante el período de comentarios públicos de 45 días que finalizará a las 5 p.m. el 31 de enero del 2017.

Las operaciones de fundición en la planta Exide, ubicada en el bloque 2700 al sur de la Calle Indiana, fueron cerradas por los reguladores estatales en marzo del 2014, pero no antes de exponer a unos 110.000 residentes del este y sudeste a toxinas cancerígenas y necrológicamente perjudiciales. La instalación fue permanentemente cerrada el año siguiente por los reguladores federales después de acumular decenas de violaciones de residuos peligrosos con cierta impunidad.

Muchas de las recomendaciones que fueron presentadas por el público están incluidas en el más reciente FEIR, “resultando en un análisis más claro” y en varias instancias “modifica al proyecto y a la mitigación ambiental”, según el DTSC.

exide_workers-001crop

Trabajadores durante limpieza de contaminación de planta Exide. (Foto cortesía de Departamento de Control de Sustancias Tóxicas)

La agencia respondió específicamente a las cuestiones planteadas repetidamente durante las reuniones públicas a principios de este año. Las cuestiones presentadas por escrito eran relacionadas a las inquietudes sobre la salud y la seguridad de los trabajadores, la eliminación del plomo de las calderas y las rutas de transporte de residuos peligrosos hacia el sitio.

En los últimos tres años, en docenas de reuniones y audiencias públicas, esos mismos grupos también exigieron una limpieza segura y completa de hogares, parques, escuelas y otras propiedades contaminadas con plomo y otros productos químicos tóxicos emitidos por la planta.

El borrador EIR recién publicado es un bosquejo preliminar del proceso que el DTSC planea usar para lograr ese objetivo. Según lo requerido por la ley, el período de comentarios públicos de 45 días para el borrador comienza el 15 de diciembre, con varias sesiones de información públicas programadas para comenzar a principios de enero.

Mark López, director ejecutivo de East Yards for Environmental Justice, le dijo a EGP que está decepcionado de que ambos documentos se publicaron durante la temporada navideña. Él dijo que en estos días los residentes tienden a estar ocupados y con menos probabilidades de tener el tiempo necesario para revisar los extensos informes.

“Esta es la peor traición de confianza y de transparencia que ha ocurrido desde hace tiempo”, dijo López en referencia al momento oportuno de la publicación. Él dijo que quiere asegurarse de que el borrador EIR trate los problemas que él presenció en el manejo de la primera etapa de la limpieza residencial de algunos 200 o más casas cerca de la planta de Exide.

La Directora del DTSC, Bárbara Lee dijo que consideró demorar la publicación del documento para después del fin de año pero igual decidió publicarlo.

“Hemos escuchado por varios miembros de la comunidad que el recibir el documento lo más pronto posible es el objetivo primordial, para así tener suficiente tiempo para revisarlo,” dijo durante una llamada con la prensa el miércoles.

López fue uno de los muchos que a principios de este año se opusieron a revivir las calderas de 100 toneladas en la planta Exide como parte de la estrategia de remueve de plomo explicado en el plan de cierre del proyecto. La preocupación era que el método podría causar una recontaminación.

“La cuestión de las calderas simplemente no parecía marchar en la dirección correcta”, le dijo a EGP el martes.

Los representantes del DTSC sólo podían documentar los comentarios hechos por el público durante el proceso de revisión sin poder responder directamente a sus preocupaciones hasta ahora. En el informe publicado este mes, la agencia afirma que planea rechazar la propuesta de refundir el plomo en las calderas después que se determinó que el método no cumple con las normas de seguridad y no protege al público. También señala que hay otras alternativas para lograr el mismo objetivo.

DTSC también acordó en que los comentarios públicos sobre las protecciones de los trabajadores estaban justificados. Nuevas condiciones se agregaron al EIR final la cuales requieren que los contratistas preparen un proyecto de plan de salud y seguridad y que cumplan con los estándares más actualizados de exposición ocupacional de plomo adoptados por Cal/OSHA. Aunque no hayan entrado en vigor deben proporcionar la protección adecuada a los trabajadores que operan en espacios confinados.

A principios de este año, la Dra. Jill Johnston, profesora asistente en la Escuela de Medicina Keck en USC, sugirió a que la agencia adoptara reglas más estrictas para evitar que otros trabajadores fueran envenenados por Exide.

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La salud y seguridad de los trabajadores de la eliminación del plomo es una preocupación activistas locales. (Foto cortesía de Departamento de Control de Sustancias Tóxicas)

Los residentes también se preocuparon de que el transporte de plomo desde las instalaciones de Vernon a través de los vecindarios locales podría ser peligroso. Una nueva divulgación de toxinas cancerosas pondría a los residentes y a las propiedades en riesgo una vez más.

Los comentarios formales incluyeron múltiples solicitudes de camiones de cero emisión para ser utilizados en el transporte y para una mayor supervisión de las rutas de transporte.

Sin embargo, según el informe del DTSC, “no hay suficientes camiones de cero emisión disponibles para proporcionar el número requerido para el proyecto propuesto”. La agencia continuó explicando que los camiones usados para transportar residuos peligrosos retirados de la planta solo contribuirán un pequeño porcentaje de emisiones de la construcción.

“El uso de camiones de cero emisión no reduciría sustancialmente las emisiones de calidad del aire y el impacto seguiría siendo significativo e inevitable”.

La agencia propone la implementación de estándares de motor más estrictos, restringir el ralentí de los equipos de construcción a cinco minutos cuando no está en uso y el uso de grúas eléctricas cuando sea factible entre otras medidas de mitigación.

Exide deberá presentar su plan de implementación de cierre y plan de salud y seguridad de los trabajadores para ser revisado por el DTSC, y obtener todos los permisos requeridos antes de comenzar el trabajo de demolición y remoción de estructuras en el sitio. Se espera que el proceso de cierre se inicie en la primavera del 2017 y que dure hasta dos años.

El reporte del EIR está disponible en varias bibliotecas locales y digitalmente en la página web: www.dtsc.ca.gov/HazardousWaste/Projects/UpdteExideSuspension.cfm

Cinco sesiones de información pública y tres reuniones públicas se llevarán a cabo entre el 10 de enero y el 28 de enero. Para más información, vea el aviso público del DTSC en la página 6 de este periódico, o llame gratuitamente al (844) 225-3887.

New Fee on Car Batteries Could Expand Exide Cleanup

October 6, 2016 by · Leave a Comment 

When Larry Mendoza learned Gov. Jerry Brown had signed legislation imposing a fee on car batteries to fund the cleanup of lead contaminated sites like those near the Exide plant in Vernon, he felt like Sacramento is finally listening.

“The community has been asking for [more funding] for such a long time, it finally feels like the sate is being proactive,” the Commerce resident told EGP.

Beginning April 1, consumers and manufacturers will be required to each pay a $1 fee on every lead-acid car battery sold in California.

“When theses technologies reach their end life, we often learn, the hard way, that these products, when not disposed of properly, come at a cost to their environment and to our health,” wrote Gov. Brown in a letter to the State Assembly.

Retailers currently charge a refundable state-mandated fee intended to encourage customers to properly recycle unused and depleted batteries. Retailers are allowed to keep money not returned to consumers.

Southeast legislators join members of the community to celebrate the signing of AB2153 in Commerce last week. (EGP photo by Nancy Martinez)

Southeast legislators join members of the community to celebrate the signing of AB2153 in Commerce last week. (EGP photo by Nancy Martinez)

The new $1 battery fee is expected to generate approximately $30 million a year to cover costs associated with the cleanup of sites contaminated by lead-acid batteries.

“It’s one thing to be able to come up with legislation, it’s another to come up with a funding source,” Sen. Ricardo Lara acknowledged during a press conference in Commerce last week celebrating the bill’s signing.

Earlier this year, the governor approved a $176.6 million loan to help speed up the testing and cleanup of properties found to have lead, arsenic and other toxic chemicals on site due to Exide’s violations of pollution and toxic waste standards.

California’s Department of Toxic Substances Control, the regulatory agency charged with overseeing the cleanup, plans to use the funds to test approximately 10,000 properties in Bell, Boyle Heights, Commerce, East Los Angeles, Huntington Park, Maywood and Vernon and to clean an estimated 2,500 homes in the impacted area.

Funds collected from the battery fee can be used to pay back that loan or added to the Exide cleanup budget.

Over the years, state regulators have repeatedly cited a lack of money for the delays and limitations in dealing with the health hazard. Area residents, elected officials and environmental activists are now hopeful that the new revenue stream will allow the cleanup to be expanded beyond the current target zone.

The bill’s principal author, Assemblywoman Cristina Garcia, lives in Bell Gardens, a city just outside the area currently being investigated. She has repeatedly asked the state to consider expanding the study area because she and others believe the contamination is not limited to the 1.7 miles surrounding the Exide plant.

“With a guaranteed source of revenue we can now entertain the idea of expanding that radius,” she told EGP.

Mark Lopez, executive director of East Yards for Environmental Justice, told EGP the new fee is another step in the long walk for justice.

“At this point, we are looking at the inter-generational impacts to health, academics, social, violence and crime,” he said. “We need a [long-term health] study to be able to fully remediate the effects of the contamination.”

In a statement to EGP, DTSC stated the agency will use the funds to investigation and cleanup areas that are “reasonably suspected to have been contaminated by the operation of a lead-acid battery recycling facility.”

Garcia told EGP she wants those responsible for the contamination to be held criminally accountable.

“We still need an investigation into what allowed this to happen,” agrees Lopez.

Activists have long questioned why state regulators allowed Exide to operate on a temporary permit and with impunity for decades, putting public health at risk. They have also called for criminally prosecuting Exide officials and anyone else who was complicit in the environmental crime.

Sen. Tony Mendoza said it’s frustrating that the Exide crisis has not received the same federal and national attention as other environmental disasters, such as the lead contamination of the water supply in Flint Michigan.

The Exide plant in Vernon is one of 14 now closed lead battery-recycling sites in the state. Cleanup of the site is expected to be the largest and most expensive environmental disaster in state history. City of Industry-based Quemetco is the only lead battery recycler still operating in California. Testing is currently underway to determine if the surrounding communities were contaminated by the plant’s toxic emissions, which have also exceeded state health standards.

“Decades of improper lead-acid battery recycling have left these communities to face enormous environmental challenges,” noted Brown in his signing statement.

As of last month, 2,900 properties in the 1.7-mile target zone have been tested for lead and 236 have been cleaned.

Larry Mendoza says he hopes legislators understand how critical it is to fund and expedite the process, adding that seeing legislators working with the community and addressing some of their concerns has him feeling more optimistic.

“Sadly,” he added, “what unites us is the pollution of lead.”

Lead Found at LAUSD Schools

August 25, 2016 by · Leave a Comment 

After learning lead had been found at Lorena Street Elementary where her two grandchildren attend school, Rosalia Valle wanted reassurance that they would be safe and that the cleanup would begin immediately.

“I’m really worried,” the Boyle Heights resident said in Spanish. “All I can do now is tell them to stay off the dirt.”

Last week the Department of Toxic Substances Control reviewed the results of recent soil samples conducted at Lorena Street Elementary in Boyle Heights and Rowan Elementary School in East Los Angeles and determined that levels of lead at both schools were higher than the 80 parts per million the state considers safe.

DTSC recommended that the Los Angeles Unified School District temporarily fence off the areas where lead was found.

Cleanup at both schools will begin as soon as this weekend for contaminated tree wells and could continue through the end of Thanksgiving break for the grassy areas, according to LAUSD officials.

Carlos Torres, deputy director of LAUSD’s Office of Environmental Health and Safety, told EGP the school district plans to go beyond just covering the bare dirt and tree wells as recommended, and will instead remove and replace all the contaminated soil.

“We don’t want to worry about this in the future,” he said. “We want to make sure the campuses are safe in the long run.”

An area near the entrance of Lorena Street Elementary was fenced off after high levels of lead were found in the soil. (EGP photo by Nancy Martinez)

An area near the entrance of Lorena Street Elementary was fenced off after high levels of lead were found in the soil. (EGP photo by Nancy Martinez)

Norma Servin grew concerned about the danger to her 7-year-old when she noticed the fencing erected near the entrance to Lorena Street Elementary on Friday, and realized it was meant to keep children away from lead-contaminated soil.

“I just found out there’s lead where my daughter has attended school for years, where I dropped her off while I was pregnant,” she said, holding her baby.

Exposure to lead can lead to neurological damages in children and premature births in expectant mothers. Even low levels of lead can result in behavior and learning problem and lower IQs in children, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.

Lorena, Rowan and nine other schools were originally tested by contractors hired by Exide Technologies during the summer of 2015, under orders from DTSC as part of the Exide-related cleanup. The Exide plant recycled hundreds of used lead-acid car batteries daily before it was permanently closed in March 2015, following years of illegal emissions and toxic waste violations.

At that time, levels of lead above the federal threshold of 400ppm were discovered at Eastman Elementary in East L.A., prompting the school district to quickly decontaminate the site.

“We didn’t want to wait around, we just removed the soil,” Torres told EGP this week.

DTSC has since tested an additional 11 schools within the 1.7-mile radius surrounding the Vernon plant, but no further action was required at those schools. However, before DTSC would clear the 11 schools tested by Exide contractors, they decided to re-test all the school sites, including Fishburn Elementary in Maywood, which was later cleared from requiring any soil removal.

Test conducted at Lorena and Rowan showed lead levels high enough to require intervention at those sites.

Assemblymember Miguel Santiago, second from left, met with representatives from LAUSD and the Department of Toxic Substances Control Monday at Lorena Street Elementary, where high levels of lead were founds. (Office of Assemblymember Miguel Santiago)

Assemblymember Miguel Santiago, second from left, met with representatives from LAUSD and the Department of Toxic Substances Control Monday at Lorena Street Elementary, where high levels of lead were founds. (Office of Assemblymember Miguel Santiago)

Parents, in the meantime, say they were in dark about potential lead problems at their children’s schools.

According to Torres, LAUSD sent its first notice informing parents of the test results in March. A second notice with the most recent results was sent out last week, and those results have also been posted on LAUSD’s website.

Unlike Eastman, Torres says Rowan and Lorena’s lower lead levels of about 100ppm were just slightly above the state’s hazardous threshold of 80ppm. He also noted that because the school district is conducting the cleanup instead of state regulators, a full CEQA (California Environmental Quality Act) review is not required.

“If we waited for that we would be looking at this being done next summer,” Torres explained.

DTSC’s Assistant Director for Environmental Justice Ana Mascarenas told EGP the levels of lead found at schools were very low overall.

In comparison, “The 50 homes we have cleaned since then had the highest levels of lead, some above 1,000ppm,” she pointed out, explaining the urgency for remediating those sites first.

Assemblymember Miguel Santiago represents the area where the two impacted schools are located. He met with LAUSD and DTSC officials last week and says he received assurances that the campuses are safe at this time.

“Blocking off the areas has made the campuses safer than they were two or three weeks ago,” he told EGP. “But clean up is the long term goal.”

LAUSD estimates removing tainted soil at Eastman cost the school district thousands of dollars. It is not yet clear what the cost to clean Rowan and Lorena will come in at, however DTSC told EGP the agency fully expects the school district will seek reimbursement from the state.

“The most important priority is not who is going to pay or who is responsible, it’s the safety of the community,” said Santiago.

Watching her three children line up for class, Romero looks at her youngest child seated in a stroller and can’t help but again express her frustration and disbelief that the cleanup has not yet gotten underway.

“If lead affects children, you would think they would start the cleanup at schools” right away.

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