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.

 

 

Exide Complaints Go On Record

July 14, 2016 by · Leave a Comment 

For several years now, Joe Gonzalez of Boyle Heights has voiced his complaints to officials with the Department of Toxic Substances Control; repeating himself at nearly every Exide-related meeting he attended.

“They know me by now, they’ve heard it all before,” he told a City Terrace resident Monday outside the latest public meeting seeking input on the decontamination process for residential properties contaminated with lead by the now shuttered battery recycler.

On Monday, for the first time, his and the statements of others were recorded for the official public record on the cleanup process, something Gonzalez has urged DTSC officials to do for years.

“Regulars” like him have attended dozens of public hearings and meetings since air quality regulators forced the Vernon-based plant to suspend operations in March 2013 and to inform over 110,000 east and southeast Los Angeles County residents of their elevated cancer risks due to toxic emissions.

Gonzalez contends there would already be an accurate and transparent record of what residents have said during the closure process if their hundreds of hours of testimony and public comment had been videotaped or recorded for the official record.

As a result, “There is no oral history of what we’ve been through” for the public or elected officials to refer back to, adds Teresa Marquez of Boyle Heights.

That changed Monday, however, when residents and environmental activists spoke on the record, often repeating what they’ve said at past meet meetings about what DTSC should consider in preparing for what some environmental experts believe could be the largest toxic cleanup in state history.

Under the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA), DTSC is required to consider and release its cleanup plan and an Environmental Impact Report (EIR) for public review, which is to be documented by a court-mandated recorder. The document will cover the potential effects of removing and transporting lead tainted soil during the cleanup of homes within 1.7 miles of the Exide plant. The same process took place when the state agency presented an

EIR outlining how Exide plans to clean the now permanently closed facility in Vernon.

“I’m glad, in this case, there is a formal record” of what we want state regulators to do, Marquez told EGP.

Unlike recent scoping meetings in Huntington Park and Commerce where attendance was light, well over 100 people attended Monday’s meeting at Resurrection Church in Boyle Heights.

More than a hundred residents, from Boyle Heights to Maywood, attended the Exide EIR scoping meeting at Resurrection Church Monday. (EGP photo by Nancy Martinez)

More than a hundred residents, from Boyle Heights to Maywood, attended the Exide EIR scoping meeting at Resurrection Church Monday. (EGP photo by Nancy Martinez)

“We have attended meeting after meeting,” observed Rev. Monsignor John Moretta. “Your presence is important,” Moretta emphasized.

Comments from all three scoping meetings focused on concerns that the residential cleanup itself is not being done efficiently and thoroughly. A large number of residents at the meetings have asked that the 1.7-mile radius be expanded to include more communities.

“Expand the scope,” demanded David Petit, director of the Natural Resources Defense Council. “Lead doesn’t decide to follow one side of the street but not the other.”

Other residents asked that the state agency consider decontaminating the inside of homes and parkways, and that the cleanup be done block by block to avoid re-exposure.

“You can’t just clean one property here and there and expect the whole neighborhood to be cleaned,” said Gonzalez.

Drawing outrage from many was the protracted timeline for starting the cleanup, which cannot begin until the EIR process is completed in June 2017.

So far, 236 of the estimated 10,000 homes possibly contaminated with lead have been cleaned.

“We still have a long way to go,” noted Carlos Montes. “It took years for us to force them to close the plant down and it will take years for them to finish the cleanup.”

Terry Cano, a lifelong Boyle Heights resident, has repeatedly told DTSC officials her family has suffered many health issues over the years. Her block is home to residents suffering with various forms of cancers, she claims are the result of constant lead exposure.

“I have never seen any plan … [detailing what can be done to protect] the health of the community,” Cano told state regulators. “We need to know the cumulative effects of being exposed to toxins.”

Cano is also angry that the public cannot access the results of soil tests taken from area schools, a complaint made by many residents since the fallout from Exide’s lead and arsenic emissions became public.

“I have asked this specifically, that needs to be available now,” Cano demanded.

Gonzalez told EGP he would not be happy until minutes from all Exide related meetings are available to the public.
“There’s a court reporter now, [but] only because it is required under CEQA,” he pointed out.
Montes told EGP there may now be a paper trail of their concerns, but he’s not sure where it will lead.

“It’s great that we have a record of our concerns and complaints,” he said. “But we will have to wait to see if they do anything about it.”

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.”

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