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.

 

 

From Lead to Pipelines, Students Hone Research Skills

September 15, 2016 by · Leave a Comment 

A small group of community-based researchers in Southeast Los Angeles County is searching to find solutions to environmental issues ranging from lead contamination to tainted storm-water runoff, bike safety and oil pipelines, some of the issues in their own backyards.

For nine weeks, 14 researchers and assistants surveyed streets, studied city documents, conducted tests and interviews as part of the Marina Pando Social Justice Research Collaborative – a project of Commerce-based East Yards Communities for Environmental Justice, and named for one of the nonprofits most active members who died last year.

According to the collaborative, the program gives first-generation, undergraduate college students of color training to conduct social justice-oriented research in their communities.

“We live in these communities, we sense the urgency in finding solutions to the issues we face,” says one of the researchers, 24-year-old Suzette Aguirre of South Gate.

“It means something different, [more], to the researchers when they are testing the homes of their neighbors,” explains Floridalma Boj-Lopez, a USC doctoral candidate and project coordinator who told EGP she believes the program participants have a better grasp on environmental injustice issues in Southeast L.A. County.

Andrea Luna, left, and Suzette Aguirre, right, compile their findings on the impacts of lead contaminated soil, which will be presented Friday. (EGP photo by Nancy Martinez)

Andrea Luna, left, and Suzette Aguirre, right, compile their findings on the impacts of lead contaminated soil, which will be presented Friday. (EGP photo by Nancy Martinez)

Boj-Lopez adds that some of the data they collected could actually be used to inform the community about environmental concerns that have not yet been researched by larger institutions.

Working in four separate groups, each research team focused on a specific area of investigation, ranging from studying the impact of lead contaminated soil in the communities surrounding the now-shuttered Exide plant to the consequences of living near oil pipelines in West Long Beach. They also studied issues faced by female bicyclists traveling through truck-heavy traffic and the quality of industrial stormwater runoff into the Los Angeles River.

Each team will detail its findings during a public presentation Friday at the Westside Christian Church in Long Beach.

One group will detail how they studied the industrial runoff from sites near the Los Angeles River and found grease-like stains running from the facility to the river, East Yards Executive Director Mark Lopez told EGP. The group plans to share photographs and the results of lead level tests near river entry points, which will be handed over to the appropriate regulatory agency for possible legal enforcement.

“Every single project is extending the work of one of our campaigns,” notes Lopez.

Julius Calascan, 23, has been volunteering with East Yards for three years, speaking at community meetings about Exide contamination and plans to expand the 710 Freeway, but told EGP he always thought he could do more.

“I’ve been wanting to have a larger role in the organization and this is a different way of helping the cause,” he said about his research, adding he hopes the data collected will spur further investigation into local environmental issues.

(Left to right): Julius Calascan, Whitney Amaya and Javier Garay work on their reaserch projects that will be presented to the public Friday. (EGP photo by Nancy Martinez)

(Left to right): Julius Calascan, Whitney Amaya and Javier Garay work on their reaserch projects that will be presented to the public Friday. (EGP photo by Nancy Martinez)

Using hand-held, lead detection devices and pH meters, Aguirre and Andrea Luna, 21, of Bell tested the soil at dozens of homes in East Los Angeles, Commerce and South Gate.

They were concerned that the brain-damaging chemicals spewed from the now-shuttered Exide battery-recycling plant in Vernon had harmed their families and neighbors, who were warned by state regulators to avoid contact with the soil around their homes until tests determine it to be safe.

For some, the warning meant they could no longer grow the fresh vegetables they depend on for a healthy diet.

“Diabetes is already prevalent in this area, which lacks fresh food options,” explains Aguirre, a student at Cal State Long Beach studying nutrition and chemistry. “We wanted to change the situation and further explain the health and social impacts caused by Exide,” that have not been talked about, she told EGP.

Aguirre said they asked themselves what residents could do in the meantime to help remediate the problem while waiting for the more extensive cleanup that could take years.

“We wanted to find a short-term solution that could extract metal out of soil,” Luna told EGP, explaining they have compiled a list of plants and vegetables that detoxify contaminated soil which they plan to release when they present their findings Friday. Luna said they also plan to distribute reading material aimed at helping reduce the fear that comes from being in limbo.

Long Beach residents Whitney Amaya, 23, and Calascan focused their research on the oil and gas lines traveling below west Long Beach. They said the project gave them a better understanding of the types of research they could conduct if they choose to pursue graduate school.

“I was looking into going into grad school but had no experience in research,” explained Amaya, who graduated from UCLA last year with a degree in geography and environmental studies.

Amaya told EGP if it were not for the funding and training provided by the collaborative, it’s unlikely she would have conducted this type of research on her own.

Each of the participants were paid to conduct their research. Funding for the collaborative came from a $50,000 CAL EPA environmental justice small grant as well as $5,000 from individual donations.

The program and funding has grown significantly since last year, according to East Yards, which is now looking at how they can take what they’ve learned to further the research and possibly evolve the project into a community-based think tank.

Coordinator Jessica Prieto is a graduate of San Francisco State University and says she hopes each researcher walks away with an understanding of the issue they studied and now   feels confident in the role of community expert.

“Hopefully, they feel actionable and feel like they can do something about it,” she said.

Update: Sept. 16, 2016 3:45p.m. a previous version of this article did not have the correct amount East Yards received from CAL EPA and individual donations. The story updated to clarify how researchers were paid.

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.

Locals Train for Jobs In Exide Cleanup

July 28, 2016 by · 1 Comment 

Rogelio Alvarez of Commerce could soon be part of the team working to decontaminate his neighborhood if hired by state regulators charged with cleaning up lead and other chemicals from the now shuttered Exide plant in Vernon.

The Department of Toxic Substances Control is providing free training to local residents and hopes they will be hired to perform sampling and assessment fieldwork during the cleanup and testing of approximately 10,000 properties in Boyle Heights, Commerce, East Los Angeles, Huntington Park, Maywood and Vernon.

The Los Angeles Times reported last week that soil samples at some homes, schools and day care centers were contaminated with levels of “brain-damaging lead higher than previously disclosed,” with one property as much as 100 times higher than state health standards.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency considers lead levels of 400 parts per million or higher a health hazard. Last week DTSC released a summary of results for 1,190 homes, which showed that more than half of those properties had lead levels above 400ppm, including 36 properties with lead readings above 1,000ppm. Of the 36 properties with lead levels classified as hazardous waste, one third are located in East Los Angeles, according to The Times.

Under a local hiring requirement, state regulators could soon start employing residents from those same neighborhoods to do some of the cleanup work.

Gov. Brown and state lawmakers earlier this year approved a $176.6 million loan to DTSC to help expedite and expand the cleanup process, including a $1.2 million set aside to train local groups and residents in the decontamination process.

A man collects samples of dirt at L.A. Trade Tech Monday during a training to prepare for a lead sampling technician position. (EGP photo by Nancy Martinez)

A man collects samples of dirt at L.A. Trade Tech Monday during a training to prepare for a lead sampling technician position. (EGP photo by Nancy Martinez)

The agency’s Workforce Development and Job Training program is currently collaborating with Los Angeles Trade Technical College (LA Trade Tech) and the UCLA Labor Occupational Safety and Health Program (UCLA-LOSH) to provide environmental, health and safety and pre-employment life skills training to about 40 students interested in becoming lead sampling technicians.

“This is the beginning of a new model,” acknowledged Roger Kintz, program manager of the workforce development program.

At the insistence of community members, DTSC is requiring contractors to reserve 40 percent of all work hours for people hired from the six impacted communities.

“This is the first time DTSC has done this, it’s not a guideline, it’s required,” explains Kintz.

While there is no guarantee of employment, successfully completing the course will give the students the training and certifications they will need to apply for the 35 are so positions expected to become available by mid-August, and other job openings down the line.

The jobs will be for one year and pay $17 to $20 an hour, according to Kintz.

Asked Tuesday why he decided to take part in the 14-day training program, Alvarez told EGP his reasoning could be summarized in three letters: “ J-O-B.”

Alvarez says he’s been aware for sometime that homes in Commerce could be contaminated with lead, and sees the training as an opportunity to gain new skills that could lead to employment in the environmental industry.

This training will also help beef up his resume, adding to the other areas of environmental training he already has, including hazardous waste operations and emergency response (HAZWOPER), CPR, first aid and lead removal.

“This is a good way to receive more training, keep certifications current at no cost and hopefully land a job,” the Commerce resident told EGP.

According to Alvarez, he has spent hundreds of dollars on training courses and certifications, but has not had any luck finding a job because they are usually only open to union workers.

Also receiving training Tuesday were students from LA CAUSA-Youthbuild (Los Angeles Communities Advocating for Unity, Social Justice and Action, Inc.), an East Los Angeles-based continuation charter school. The training they received focused on the proper way to collect soil and other samples from homes, which like Alvarez, could be in their own neighborhoods.

Johan Lopez, 19, of Boyle Heights told EGP he had heard about the elevated cancer risk his community faces due to the toxic air pollutants spewing from Exide’s Vernon plant. His classmates Ricardo Trujillo, 19 and Valente Pereyda, 20, do not live in the impacted area, but because they attend school in East L.A., they too see the workforce program as a way to improve their job prospects.

All three are already certified in CPR, first aid and Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) safety compliance regulations, but hope to gain much-needed work experience by taking part in the workforce development program.

“By testing our community we are also helping our community,” points out Pereyda, calling it a

win-win situation.

Correction July 29, 2016 An earlier version of this story mistakenly stated that over 10,000 properties will be tested instead of approximately 10,000. The article also inaccurately stated that the pay scale of the jobs listed, will range between $17 to $28 when in fact they will range between $17 and $20 .

Few Attend Exide Meeting On Residential Cleanup Plan

June 30, 2016 by · Leave a Comment 

East and southeast Los Angeles County residents had an opportunity Saturday to have a say in the process to decontaminate their homes and other properties tainted with lead from the now shuttered Exide plant in Vernon, in what is expected to be California’s largest cleanup effort ever.

However, while more than 100,000 people may have been put at risk from the toxic exposure, only about a dozen people showed up to the first meeting where their comments on how to go about removing the contamination from their homes would actually be on the record.

Lea este artículo en Español: Pocos Residentes Asisten a Reunión de Limpieza Residencial de Exide

For some residents, Saturday’s meeting at Raul R. Perez Memorial Park in Huntington Park was the first Exide-related meeting they had ever attended. For others, it was the first time they would hear that their homes and families could possibly be in danger from exposure to cancer-causing arsenic and lead.

Lucia Kikunaga of Maywood told officials from the Department of Toxic Substance Control she was stunned when she received the mailer informing her of the meeting and that there could possibly be toxic chemicals in her home.

Kikunaga’s revelation was surprising given that there have been dozens of meetings and hearings over the last two years regarding the health hazard caused by the battery recycling plan in Vernon. Hundreds of hours of testimony and protests have taken place to date.

Of the handful of residents who spoke Saturday, a majority expressed concern over what they claim is a lack of outreach to their community.

“Public outreach is a key component in our efforts to keep the community informed about the Exide cleanup,” DTSC Spokesman Sandy Nax told EGP, responding to the criticism. “We use a variety of methods to communicate in both English and Spanish.”

The state agency has sent out thousands of postcards, canvassed neighborhoods, set up drop-in information centers, a hotline and used social media to reach out to residents in the impacted areas, he added.

Yet, Kikunaga wasn’t the only person at the meeting to say they were unaware of the Exide catastrophe or efforts to clean up the aftermath.

An Exide scoping meeting was held in Huntington Park Saturday Very few residents were in attendance. (EGP photo by Nancy Martinez)

An Exide scoping meeting was held in Huntington Park Saturday Very few residents were in attendance. (EGP photo by Nancy Martinez)

“I always knew there was major pollution in our communities because we live in an industrial area, but this is very serious,” longtime Maywood resident Zoila Flores said in disbelief.
DTSC plans to test the soil of 10,000 properties within 1.7-miles of the Exide plant and to clean the 2,500 homes with the highest levels of lead by July 2018. Under the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA), before cleanup can begin DTSC must prepare an environmental impact report that will disclose the potential effects of mitigation efforts such as soil removal and transporting tainted material away from properties in Bell, Boyle Heights, Commerce, East Los Angeles, Huntington Park and Vernon.

On Saturday, it was clear that residents like Leonor Casillas still need basic information before they can begin to give input into what the cleanup process should look like.

Casillas told DTSC staff she had no idea there could be lead in the backyard of her Maywood home. She’s worried there may be a correlation with her husband’s cancer.

“What are the health impacts? And what else is going on in our area,” she asked Saturday.
DTSC, the lead regulatory agency charged with the cleanup, has already tested more than 2,000 homes and cleaned up over 200 homes within the preliminary investigation area, according to the agency. Residents from surrounding areas have repeatedly asked that DTSC expand the area where they are testing properties for lead, claiming the danger is much wider spread.

A second meeting to gather input from the public will be held today, June 30 at 6:30p.m at Commerce City Hall.

The EIR process, which involves public review, meetings and hearings, is expected to be completed around July 2017, a timeline state officials call “aggressive.” EIRs tend to take at least a year and a half, says DTSC’s Kimberly Hudson.

“It is common to extend the public review period,” she added, meaning the process could go longer if community members feel more input is required.

In the meantime, Flores told DTSC they should not forget about impacted areas like Maywood, just because it’s home to a large Latino and undocumented population,

“With so much effort we have been paying for our homes,” she said about the struggle to buy a home. “When it comes to selling our homes, what is going to happen,” she asked, worried the contamination could cause her home value to drop.

“Some of us are scared because we don’t know what the cleanup process is and we don’t want our properties taken from us,” echoed Manuel Borjas, referring to the fear among some residents that the process could lead to them losing their homes through eminent domain or being forced to leave their homes for a long period.

DTSC officials, however, assured Borjas and others in the room that the cleanup process takes less than 5 days and homes would not be damaged or taken through eminent domain.

“Well I don’t see any of that in your packet,” responded Borjas. “That is very important information for the people in my community who are not here because they are scared,” he said.

Looking around the room and seeing so few residents present, Kikunaga told EGP that residents must to do their part to hold the state accountable.

“I know nuestra raza, I tried to encourage my neighbors to attend and some just don’t care.”

Fee on Automobile Batteries Could Pay for Lead Cleanup

June 9, 2016 by · 1 Comment 

A California bill aimed at funding the cleanup of lead-contaminated communities like those surrounding the now-shuttered Exide battery recycling plant, could soon require consumers and manufactures to each pay a $1 fee for every lead-acid car battery sold in the state.

Under the Lead Acid Battery Recycling Act (AB 2153)—approved by the State Assembly last Friday—monies collected would be deposited into a fund to pay for cleanup efforts like those currently underway in Boyle Heights, East Los Angeles, Commerce, Maywood and Huntington Park, where as many as 10,000 homes may have been contaminated by the former lead smelter. Exposure to lead has been liked to cancer, birth defects and cognitive development issues in children, pregnant women and the elderly.

“The State Assembly is sending a clear message to residents in the affected communities that they do matter and we will no longer let them sit on poisoned soil,” the bill’s author Assemblywoman Cristina Garcia said.

For years, Exide Technologies recycled hundreds of lead-acid car batteries at its Vernon site, amassing dozens of hazardous waste violations in the process. One of just two such facilities west of the Rockies, Exide was found to have emitted emissions of arsenic and lead into the air and soil, exposing 110,000 east and southeast residents to cancer-causing toxins.

State officials estimate the cost to clean contaminated properties could be as high as $500 million, which Exide is responsible for paying for under an agreement with the .S. Attorney’s Office, but could take years to collect and in the end not cover the total cost.

If approved, Garcia estimates the new fee would raise up $70 million a year for the Lead-Acid Battery Cleanup Fund.

“It’s something we have been talking about for years,” said Mark Lopez, executive director of East Yard Communities for Environmental Justice. “It is enough for all lead issues in California? No. But it’s a step in the right direction.”

Lead acid batteries sit on the shelf of Auto Supply in East Los Angeles; the retailer previously sold Exide brand batteries. (Courtesy of David Scher)

Lead acid batteries sit on the shelf of Auto Supply in East Los Angeles; the retailer previously sold Exide brand batteries. (Courtesy of David Scher)

David Scher, owner of Auto Supply in East Los Angeles, proudly sold Exide car batteries for years. Last year, after realizing the company “was not acting like a good corporate citizen,” Scher said he switched to a different vendor.

Scher told EGP he does not like the idea of customers paying upfront for the cleanup caused by corporate polluters.
“It shouldn’t have got to this point,” he said. “They are punishing the victims.”

Lead-acid car batteries range from $65 to $176 at the East L.A. business, but Scher does not believe the new fee will impact sales.

In an unprecedented move, Gov. Brown earlier this year approved a $176.6 million loan to help expedite and expand testing and cleanup of residential properties, schools, daycare centers and parks in the 1.7-mile radius surrounding the battery recycling plant.

The funds collected from the fee would be used to re-pay the multi-million dollar loan until funds are recovered from Exide or any other responsible parties.

Assemblyman Miguel Santiago, the bill’s co-author, explains the fund is a way for the state to “hope for the best but prepare for the worst.”

It creates a legal avenue for state dollars to be used to address environmental issues while the state goes after polluters.

“The Exide situation taught California that we were not prepared for something like this,” said Santiago, referring to what many believe is going to be the largest and most costly environmental cleanup in state history.

AB 2153 also requires battery manufacturers to incorporate a recycling symbol on the battery, informing consumers the product must be recycled properly. Those who don’t comply could be fined up to $1,000 per day’ those funds would also be deposited to the fund.

The senate version of the bill needs to be approved before it can move on to the governor, which state officials anticipate could happen by August. If signed by the governor, the new fee would take effect January 1, 2017.

“Exide continues to plague my backyard with the remnants of lead contamination,” Garcia said following the bill’s approval in the Assembly.

“This bill is extremely vital to ensure cleanup and bring relief to our communities.”

Exide Public Hearing at Roosevelt High School

June 8, 2016 by · Leave a Comment 

Today, Thursday June 19

6-9pm—Exide Public Hearing at Roosevelt High School. The Assembly Environmental Safety and Toxic Materials Committee will host a meeting where the Department of Toxic Substance Control will update the community on clean up activities. School is located at 456 S. Mathews St. L.A. 90033. For info, call (213) 620-4646.

 

Exide: From Brownfield to Classroom

April 28, 2016 by · 1 Comment 

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.”

Steven Gendel of ThermoFisher Scientific shows eastside residents how to use a portable analyzer to test soil samples.  (Department of Toxic Substances Control)

Steven Gendel of ThermoFisher Scientific shows eastside residents how to use a portable analyzer to test soil samples. (Department of Toxic Substances Control)

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.

Lawmakers Move Bills for Exide Cleanup

April 7, 2016 by · Leave a Comment 

When Teresa Marquez first heard that Gov. Jerry Brown was proposing $176.6 million to expedite and expand the cleanup of homes and other properties contaminated by a now-shuttered lead-acid battery recycling plant, she told herself and others, “I won’t believe it, until I see it.”

It’s been nearly two months since state lawmakers assured residents they would within two weeks introduce “urgency legislation” to appropriate the funding proposed by Brown, a commitment they made good on Wednesday with the introduction of the “Exide Clean-Up Package” in the Assembly and Senate.

Lea este artículo en Español: Legisladores Avanzan con la Limpieza de Exide

Under AB 118, authored by Majority Whip Assemblyman Miguel Santiago, and the Senate version authored by Senate President Pro Tempore Kevin de Leon, SB 93, the state would immediately appropriate a $176.6 million loan to the Department of Toxic Substances Control to be used for cleanup of east and southeast communities contaminated with lead and other toxic chemicals by the Exide plant in Vernon.

The bills are expected to land on the governor’s desk by the end of next week, and all accounts are that he will sign it.

“This is an aggressive bill and timeline,” said Santiago, who kicked off the process by talking up the merits of the bills during a special meeting of a budget subcommittee Wednesday morning.

“I stand by my original statement that we are looking for the fasted, highest quality process to speed up the cleanup efforts,” Santiago told EGP Wednesday. The assemblyman, who represents most of the communities contaminated by the Exide plant, including Boyle Heights, East Los Angeles, Vernon, Maywood and Huntington Park, was a regular face at DTSC hearings and meetings.

His bill, AB 118, gives DTSC access to the funds through June 2018, a date which Santiago’s chief of staff, Jackie Koenig, told EGP is included as a budget mechanism, explaining funds will still be available to DTSC after the 2018 date if needed.

The multi-million dollar loan can only be used for cleanup related activities, including testing and the CEQA environmental review process, as well as for job training of local hires and any costs related to the recovery of the funds from potentially responsible parties, including Exide.

It also mandates that DSTC keep the public informed of its progress by regularly posting on its website the number of property access agreements received, properties sampled and properties remedied. The state regulatory agency will also be required to update state legislators on the cleanup effort and provide a summary of their findings during DTSC’s annual funding requests.

A DTSC crew cleans a home at East Los Angeles. (Department of Toxic Substances Control)

A DTSC crew cleans a home at East Los Angeles. (Department of Toxic Substances Control)

DTSC is preparing to begin the environmental impact report (EIR) process and hopes to begin the cleanup of residential properties, schools, daycare centers and parks in the 1.7-mile radius surrounding the battery recycling plant by late spring 2017. The EIR is required under the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA), which mandates state and local agencies identify significant environmental impacts and mitigation to the community.

Initially, there was a proposal to exempt the community cleanup from the CEQA process out of concern that it could further stall the process to remove lead, arsenic, and other potentially dangerous chemicals from area homes and other properties.

However, last week, DTSC Director Barbara Lee, speaking to the Assembly Budget Subcommittee for Resources and Transportation, said it’s the wish of community leaders and environmental groups to not exempt the Exide cleanup from CEQA process. The initial thinking was to give the cleanup the highest priority as quickly, effectively and safely as possible, she said.

The environmental review process will begin in early May with a 30-day public review of the notice of preparation, followed by a public scoping meeting later that month, according to DTSC. The agency estimates it will release a draft EIR sometime in October. Assuming no extensions are granted, the public will have 45 days to comment on the DEIR in writing or during a public hearing. DTSC estimates it could release a final EIR for public review sometime in March 2017 and certify the document in by April, if there are no delays.

The state agency is currently sampling and cleaning properties using the $7 million it received from Exide last summer. The CEQA process would not effect future testing, which would continue while the EIR is being approved, according to DTSC.

“The administration remains open to working with community leaders and the legislature to explore ways to expedite the CEQA review,” Lee told the committee last week. “The health and safety of this community – especially the youngest and most vulnerable in it – has to be our top priority.”

Congressman Xavier Becerra, who also serves the impacted areas and serves as Chairman of the Democratic Caucus, applauded Governor Brown’s recent decision not to exempt the Exide lead cleanup from the CEQA review process.

“The Governor did the right thing by respecting the will of the residents impacted by the contamination. They deserve to have the cleanup, remediation and oversight done in a way that gains their trust and confidence after years of neglect,” he said.  “While it’s important to promptly undertake all the measures necessary to restore a clean and safe environment for the families, the work must be done, first and foremost, in partnership with the families who must live through this.”

DTSC now says it will use information from the California Department of Public Health, which conducted blood tests to determine the levels of lead in children living in the areas surrounding the Vernon plan, to “refine and target our testing and cleanup.”

To date, over 1000 properties in the area surrounding Exide have been sampled and over 200 properties have been cleaned, according to DTSC.

Marquez believes that is still too little, too late.

“I don’t know why it’s taken so long, you would think by now they would be further along,” she said.

“Children are being poisoned,” she emphasized. “We want it done yesterday.”

Santiago agrees and says he is concerned that the remediation process could be prolonged.

“Every day we wait is a day our community doesn’t get justice,” he told EGP.

DTSC should have taken good notes throughout the dozens of public meetings conducted on the issue, Santiago told EGP, referring to testimony already available on the impact of Exide’s toxic polluting as well as concerns about potential risks during the cleanup process.

“We need to make sure we get this right on the front end so we don’t run into the same problems,” he said.

“I can assure all the red tape will be torn down and the neighborhoods will be cleaned up.”

Update 11:45 a.m. This post has been updated to include a statement from Congressman Xavier Becerra.

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Twitter @nancyreporting

nmartinez@egpnews.com

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