Residents Are the Heroes In Exide Victory

February 19, 2016 by · Leave a Comment 

The unrelenting efforts of residents and community activists deserve credit for California Gov. Brown and state legislators securing nearly $177 million for testing and cleanup of properties contaminated by the Exide Technologies plant in Vernon, state and local Latino leaders said today during a news conference at Resurrection Church in Boyle Heights.

“This is what community looks like,” proclaimed Senate Pro Tem Kevin de Leon, pointing to the group of residents and activist at his side and in the audience.

“This is a watershed moment for all, but there is still much to do.”

He was referring to the people from Boyle Heights, Commerce, East Los Angeles, Maywood and other southeast communities who have spent decades fighting for the state to hear their pleas for justice for the men, women and children being poisoned by high levels of lead, arsenic and other contaminants from the now closed acid-lead battery recycling plant.

“These are reparations,” pointed out Gladys Limon, attorney for Communities for Better Environment. “While Governor Brown proposed this, it took a long time for him to do so.”

After years of silence, Gov. Brown publicly acknowledged the Exide contamination for the first time Wednesday when he asked state legislators to allocate $176.6 million from the general fund for testing and cleanup on the eastside.

The funds, once approved by the California State Senate and Assembly Budget and Appropriations Committee, will come in the form of a loan. The state will then go after Exide and any other parties responsible for contamination to recover the costs.

“I can finally see the light at the end of the tunnel,” said Boyle Heights resident Terry Cano, who lives in a home with high levels of lead in the soil, during the event. “This is long overdue and we can’t stop fighting until the last house is clean.”

The funds will expedite and expand testing for up to 10,000 homes and remove lead-tainted soil from 2,500 residential properties, schools, daycare centers and parks in the 1.7-mile radius surrounding plant. The multi-million spending plan would increase the number of crews assigned to the week-long cleanups from 2 to 40, according to Barbara Lee, director of the Department of Toxic Substances Control.

Many residents have told EGP over the years they are frustrated with inept oversight by the DTSC, and today, many still say they do not trust the agency to handle the funds or the cleanup moving forward.

DTSC allowed Exide to operate 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.

“Let me clear, there is no safe level of lead,” de Leon said today.

Local elected officials came together at Resurrection Church in Boyle Heights Friday to praise Eastside residents and environmental activist for pushing the state to  address Exide contamination. (EGP photo by Nancy Martinez)

Local elected officials came together at Resurrection Church in Boyle Heights Friday to praise Eastside residents and environmental activist for pushing the state to address Exide contamination. (EGP photo by Nancy Martinez)

Councilman Jose Huizar, who represents Boyle Heights, one of the most severely impacted communities, said he’s anxious to see a timeline for the testing and cleanup process, now that funds will finally be available. He wants strict oversight of state regulators, who have moved slowly to protect the community.

Assemblywoman Cristina Garcia noted that the funds are “just a down payment, not just in funding but the work from elected officials.” Estimates put the entire cleanup at $400 million, possibly making it the costliest environmental catastrophe in California history.

De Leon told EGP that he has serious concerns about the toxics substances control agency’s ability to handle the cleanup, and said that question would be part of his negotiations with governor’s office moving forward.

As EGP first reported, residents and community activists had grown increasingly frustrated and angry over the “double standard” they observed in the treatment of the mostly-white, affluent Porter Ranch gas leak and the blue collar, and the predominately Latino communities affected by Exide’s lead contamination.

They were angry that there had been no public statement from Brown, and the slow pace of the decontamination process.

It was just a few weeks ago that L.A. County Supervisor Hilda Solis said she had tried to reach the governor to ask him to allocate $70 million for the cleanup, but he was unresponsive.

“I called the governor and thanked him for the funds,” she said today about his turnaround.

“I also invited him to come and see what’s going on,” she said in Spanish. “He said ‘we’ll see,’” she said.

Sen. Ricardo Lara (D-Bell Gardens) said pressure from the community made the difference.

“The community kept elected officials on task,” said Lara.

“I want to personally thank EGP and the Eastside Sun for their incredible investigative journalism for bringing bright sunshine to residents of Boyle Heights and to this incredible environmental crisis,” said de Leon.

Rev. Monsignor John Moretta earlier in the week told EGP that when the community gathered to celebrate the closure of the Exide plant last year, they thought it was a victory. They have since realized that the real work was still ahead.

The same can be said about the state’s funding now, he said. Moretta and several other people said they want an investigation into state regulators and for Los Angeles’ city attorney and the state attorney to bring legal action against Exide, which has abandoned toxic waste sites in five other parts of the country.

This is not the end, he said.

In the end, the event was intended to be a recognition of the community’s activism.

U.S. Rep. Xavier Becerra said holding the celebration at Resurrection Church was fitting.

“Folks had to rise from the ashes again,” he said. “Residents had to each add their grain of sand for years, now the governor has added his.”

SCAQMD to Hold Exide Hearing Saturday

February 4, 2016 by · Leave a Comment 

Air quality officials are hoping a quasi-hearing board extends an abatement order to require Exide Technologies to comply with ambient lead standards while the Dept. of Toxic Substances Control finalizes the Vernon plant’s closure plan.

The Hearing Board of the South Coast Air Quality Management District (SCAQMD) will consider modifying the abatement order the agency issued the former lead-acid battery recycling plant back in March 2014 during a public hearing at 9 a.m. Saturday at Commerce City Hall.

The now shuttered battery-recycling facility in Vernon is believed to have contaminated as many as 10,000 homes and business with lead and arsenic, putting over 100,000 people at a higher-risk for neurological diseases and cancer.

The modification would keep Exide under a legally enforceable order until the plant’s closure plan is finalized by DTSC, which the agency anticipates will be completed in June.

The now-closed Exide Technologies plant is located at 2700 South Indiana St. in Vernon. (Department of Toxic Substances Control)

The now-closed Exide Technologies plant is located at 2700 South Indiana St. in Vernon. (Department of Toxic Substances Control)

The purpose of the modification is to include the district amended Rule 1420.1, which prohibits lead processing facilities from releasing emissions that contribute to the ambient concentrations of lead exceeding 0.150 micrograms over a period of 30 days.

AQMD believes when deconstruction of the facility begins it is likely Exide will violate the ambient lead standard unless it is forced to strictly comply with the existing dust mitigation plan that was designed to reduce and control lead-containing dust emitting from the Vernon plant during construction related activities.

SCAQMD Spokesman Sam Atwood told EGP the modification would “bridge the gap” between the order and the closure plan.

“Until the compliance plan for closure activities is approved by the district [Exide’s] obligation to comply with its present dust mitigation plan is best assured through this order of abatement,” the air quality agency’s petition reads.

A public hearing was held Wednesday in Commerce to review the plan; the public has until
March 28 to comment on DTSC’s closure plan.

On Wednesday, however, Senate leader Kevin de León (D-Los Angeles) issued a statement critical of DTSC’s failure to “perform its basic function of protecting the public and environment from industrial hazardous waste and contamination.”

His statement was in response to the first report by the Independent Review Panel created to review the regulatory agency’s handling of its responsibilities in the wake of the Exide contamination scandal.

“DTSC’s shortcomings have placed the health and wellbeing of whole communities in serious risk,” said De León. “We now have an independent report that presents an excellent framework for reforming a department facing significant challenges.”

The panel’s 16-page report highlighted serious concerns about the DTSC’s backlog of pending applications that is allowing hazardous waste facilities to keep operating for years after their permits expire, as well as coming cuts to staff responsible for recouping clean up costs from polluters, among other issues.

9 a.m. Commerce City Hall: 2535 Commerce Way. For more information, call (909) 396-2432 or email at dalatorre@aqmd.gov.

A copy of the petition is available at www.aqmd.gov/home/regulations/compliance/exide-updates.
The Independent Review Panel’s report can be found at https://www.dtsc.ca.gov/GetInvolved/ReviewPanel/upload/FINAL-IRPreport-1-28.pdf

Update: Feb. 5, 2016 to include 9 a.m. hearing time.

Another Call for Leadership and Justice In Exide Cause

February 4, 2016 by · Leave a Comment 

We’re disappointed but not surprised that some of our readers do not agree with our editorial last week in this newspaper criticizing the different standards exhibited by government officials regarding the Porter Ranch gas leak and the Exide contamination.

EGP never said or implied that the Porter Ranch contamination is not a serious issue deserving of the aggressive intervention and attention it is now receiving.

Rather, our criticism is of the governmental regulatory agencies and their bosses –namely the governor and elected officials from the city of Los Angeles right up to the State Senate and Assembly—who for years have failed to provide adequate funding and oversight to deal with the fallout of Exide’s decades-long spewing of toxic levels of lead and arsenic into the air and water in east and southeast Los Angeles area cities and neighborhoods.

On Jan. 28, the Independent Review Panel created to look into the California Department of Toxic Substance Control released it’s first report on its findings and it highlighted numerous concerns with how the agency handles the permitting of hazardous waste facilities.

Chief among the panel’s concerns is the backlog of expired permits for facilities still in business; the agency’s projected shortfall in funding to remediate contaminated sites where the polluter is no longer available to pay for the clean up, and the agency losing this June 14 staff members whose job it is to recoup decontamination costs — something the agency already has a poor record of achieving.

We understand the Porter Ranch residents fear for their families’ health these past four months. It’s the same fear families in Flint Michigan have about the lead in their water, which prompted their governor to under pressure issue a state of emergency.

It’s the same fear many have about the lead from Exide in their homes – where after years of violations, hearings, and untold hours of public testimony, there still has not been a state of emergency issued.

Exide area residents have endured exposure to lead, arsenic and other toxic chemicals, which  health experts and scientists have testified pose a myriad of health problems, including a higher risk of cancer.

We believe no one, no matter where they live, should be exposed to environmental contamination and that there should not be a double standard when it comes to how our government responds to environmental injustices.

EGP will continue to shine a light on the double standard taking place in East Los Angeles, Boyle Heights, Commerce, Maywood, Vernon and Huntington Park: It’s the right thing to do.

Jerry Brown, Where Are You? It’s Time to Step Up on Exide

January 28, 2016 by · Leave a Comment 

California’s “environmental governor” has been missing in action in the fight to stop the devastating damage being done to east and southeast Los Angeles residents by state regulator’s failures to stop years of toxic chemical dumping in those communities.

Those residents – most of them Latino and working class – are mad as hell, and rightfully so.

For more than a decade, this newspaper has been publishing stories on the dangerous polluting of these same neighborhoods – from unincorporated East Los Angeles to Boyle Heights, to Maywood, Commerce and cities nearby. The number of community meetings and protests we’ve covered over the years are too many to count. Yet, the illegal health and environmental damage for the most part went unabated.

The most recent revelations — if you can call three years recent — that the Exide Technologies battery recycling plant in Vernon was allowed to operate for decades on a temporary permit despite repeated violations of state toxic chemical emissions is inexcusable.

So is the lack of urgency and action not only by state regulators, but also by the state, national and local officials elected to serve, and to protect them.

If it weren’t for the people in the impacted neighborhoods unrelentingly beating the drum on the crisis in their community, Exide would likely still be in business today.

Sadly, it’s taken the catastrophe at the Aliso Canyon natural gas storage facility in Porter Ranch to stir up awareness by state official to what east and southeast residents have known along: There’s a double standard in California when it comes to protecting people of color and limited means from environmental injustice.

On Tuesday, the Assembly Committee on Environmental Safety and Toxic Materials Assembly finally held a hearing on the Exide debacle and plans to clean up the toxic pollution it has left behind. The meeting was held in Sacramento, not where the problem is.

In more affluent Porter Ranch, officials brought the hearing down to the people. Gov. Brown personally went to Porter Ranch and declared a State of Emergency, but couldn’t be bothered to drive two-miles from where he was attending the opening of casino in Bell Gardens to peek in at the Exide damage.

Residents in the areas contaminated by Exide had expressed doubt about former Supervisor Gloria Molina’s assertion that the governor had not responded to her calls to him to discuss Exide. How could it possibly be true that the governor had refused to call back a supervisor from the largest county in the state? We now know it wasn’t just one supervisor, but two. Sup. Hilda Solis says she has received the same treatment.

Is it any wonder the people living in neighborhoods polluted by Exide are angry? We think not.

Gov. Brown owes these communities an apology for the lack of respect he has shown them. Tell us Jerry, what would it have taken to stand up and say to the community, ‘I’m on it and I’m making sure my administration is doing everything to ensure your safety?’

We have to wonder how the governor’s friend Cesar Chavez would have reacted to this very obvious slight. But let’s face it, Brown isn’t the only official whose been missing in action. Why aren’t the legislators who represent these communities banding together to pressure the governor and their fellow legislators to put up the money needed for the cleanup?

In the city of Los Angeles, Mayor Eric Garcetti and City Attorney Mike Feuer have both been very out spoken in their criticism of SoCalGas’ handling of Porter Ranch. Boyle Heights is in the city of angels, but you don’t hear them talking about bringing lawsuits or demanding that these constituents, whose children can’t even play in their own backyards, be relocated until their homes are decontaminated.

Yes Angelenos, it’s painfully clear: If you are poor, and a person of color, there is a double standard in the Golden State.

It’s time that changes and for the state to come up with the initial $70 million needed to get the clean up of residential properties moving.

Assembly Questions Actions on Exide

January 28, 2016 by · Leave a Comment 

Years of public outrage over the Exide Technologies’ contamination of cities and neighborhoods in the east and southeast Los Angeles area finally appears to be getting the attention of state legislators, likely in response to growing accusations that California has a double standard when it comes to how it handles environmental and health emergencies in low-income Latino communities.

On Tuesday, the Assembly Committee on Environmental Safety and Toxic Materials held a hearing in Sacramento on plans to decontaminate the site of the now shuttered battery-recycling facility in Vernon believed to have contaminated as many as 10,000 homes and business with lead and arsenic, putting over 100,000 people at a higher-risk for neurological diseases and cancer.

Lea este artículo en Español: Asamblea Cuestiona las Acciones de Exide

It was the first hearing by state elected officials since protests over the plant’s repeated violations of toxic chemical emissions standards became public in 2013.

As EGP first reported, residents from East Los Angeles, Boyle Heights, Commerce, Maywood, Bell and Huntington Park have grown increasingly frustrated and angry over the “double standard” they’ve observed in the treatment of the mostly-white, affluent Porter Ranch gas leak and the blue collar, and the predominately Latino communities affected by Exide’s lead contamination.

“Maybe we should call ourselves Boyle Heights Ranch, maybe we’ll get more attention,” Rev. Monsignor John Moretta of Resurrection Church told the committee on Tuesday.

At a press conference before the hearing, Los Angeles County Supervisor Hilda Solis, Speaker-elect Sen. Anthony Rendon and Assemblyman Miguel Santiago called for the state to allocate $70 million out of next year’s budget to pay for cleaning up the most contaminated residential properties.

“An invisible disease has affected these communities, this is a case of environmental injustice,” said Solis, decrying state regulators slow progress in removing soil polluted with lead from east and southeast homes. She suggested the money could be recovered later from Exide. A lawsuit could be required.

“DTSC has not done a good job on the cleanup,” said Rendon. “We need to make sure Exide cleans up the mess it has left in our communities.”

Joining the officials at the press conference and for the hearing was a busload of residents from the impacted areas. They’d traveled to the Capitol to demand the same level of action from the state that is being given to the Aliso Canyon gas leak in Porter Ranch. They told committee members that state regulators need to speed up the removal of lead tainted soil from their homes.

So far, the Dept. of Toxic Substances Control (DTSC) has cleaned about 200 or so properties in the designated contamination zone.

During Tuesday’s committee meeting, Assemblyman Santiago repeatedly asked DTSC Director Barbara Lee whether there are obstacles they can address to increase the number of homes being cleaned every week. She did not respond directly to his inquiries, but said DTSC is cleaning three properties per week. At that rate, it will take seven years to clean 1,000 properties, complained other speakers.

Los Angeles County Supervisor Hilda Solis, center, speaks before the Assembly Committee on Environmental Safety and Toxic Materials in Sacramento Tuesday. (Los Angeles County)

Los Angeles County Supervisor Hilda Solis, center, speaks before the Assembly Committee on Environmental Safety and Toxic Materials in Sacramento Tuesday. (Los Angeles County)

“We have a death sentence, we can’t wait any longer” said a tearful Terry Cano of Boyle Heights who traveled the long distance to testify. She alleged that members of her family have died of cancer caused by Exide’s polluting of her community.

Cano also expressed her frustration with the state agency’s focus on the contamination at the now vacant Exide facility instead of focusing on places where people still live.

“This is the equivalent to responding to a burning building and firefighters respond to the fire and not the dying family,” she criticized.

Resentment is growing over Gov. Jerry Brown’s failure to personally address the Exide “catastrophe,” something he has done in Porter Ranch, where he has declared a State of Emergency.

“We can blame DTSC for the handling and enforcement of Exide and for taking so long, but we can’t blame them for the governor not giving them the money to clean up the contamination,” Mark Lopez of East Yards for Environmental Justice told EGP before the hearing.

Lee defended the agency’s actions, pointing out that 22,000 hours of staff time has already been spent working on the Exide closure. She also said the Brown Administration has been very supportive of their work, allocating $7 million in state funding for testing and cleanup.

“I can assure you the governor has us all committed to this site, it’s a priority for us.” echoed Matt Rodriguez of the California EPA,

Local elected officials, however, seemed unconvinced.

“DTSC has failed our community,” Santiago said.

Concern that money is behind the state’s slow response to the clean up.

Assemblywoman Cristina Garcia called the $8 million in the governor’s budget for the Exide Cleanup “insulting.”

“It feels like the government is just throwing pennies at brown people to keep us quiet,” she said.

She urged the committee to recommend the state dig into the reserves if it has to, to ensure the governor allocates $70 million in this year’s budget.

“We must do the right thing and show the residents from low income communities who are predominately Latino that that they are just as important as our counterparts from affluent communities.”

Jane Williams, executive director for California Communities Against Toxics, suggested state legislators consider a battery tax to help offset costs associated with the cleanup instead of waiting for Exide to allocate funds. She told the committee the battery recycler had a long history of contamination at their plants across the country.

“Exide has a pattern and practice of contaminating communities and leaving contamination behind,” she said.

Huntington Park Mayor Karina Macias testified she has spoken to many residents who are frustrated with the process and just don’t see any clear financial plan or commitment. She also expressed frustration that the committee waited until the end of the four-hour long meeting to hear from the public, the victims in the crisis.

Nearly all of those residents who traveled to Sacramento had to leave the meeting to catch their bus home, only one was left to testify.

“They’ve been waiting for too long,” she said before handing over letters from the community for the record.
Maywood Councilman Eduardo de la Riva said he did not appreciate Exide representatives at the meeting trying to shift the blame for the high levels of lead to other sources, including lead paint, nearby freeways and the industrial setting. He asked that the state agency recognize the cleanup should be their priority.

“We applaud DTSC for the steps they are now starting to take but the damage has been done,” he said. “We must act now.”

A video recording of the hearing can be viewed online at http://calchannel.granicus.com/MediaPlayer.php?view_id=7&clip_id=3327

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