Only a few dozen people showed up last week for a meeting billed as a chance for residents to learn more about the process to clean up contamination at the shuttered Exide plant in Vernon, prompting several people to again criticize the Department of Toxic Substance Control for its “poor outreach.”
The low-turnout is just another example of DTSC’s failure to keep residents informed about the hazardous waste polluter, several speakers complained.
“There’s a long history of injustice in this whole Exide issue,” Mark Lopez, of East Yard Communities told EGP. “There is a continuance of frustration over the inclusion of the community and the inadequate outreach by DTSC.”
Excide Technologies, a lead-acid battery recycler and smelter, was forced to close down in order to avoid federal charges related to its long history of hazardous waste violations. They have been fined millions of dollars to pay costs associated with the clean up of toxic chemicals at their Vernon plant and contaminated properties in surrounding communities.
Before that process starts, however, DTSC must prepare a Draft Environmental Impact Report (DEIR) to identify the potential impacts and mitigations expected to take place during the closure process.
Last week’s scoping meeting was a chance for residents in Maywood and other communities to tell state regulators what they want included in the report.
However, it’s the middle of graduation season and Bell Gardens High School, where many local families send their children to school, has their graduation ceremony tonight, so they are not here, Lopez pointed out.
“This could have easily been avoided had [DTSC] done their research on the community,” he said. “It’s DTSC’s job, they have the staff for outreach.”
It should not be so hard for people to get their voices heard, echoed Jessica Prieto of East Los Angeles.
According to DTSC, the agency has held six meetings in Boyle Heights and Maywood since Exide was closed.
Most people at the meeting are already informed and involved, and regularly attend meetings on Exide, said frustrated residents, accusing DTSC of not doing enough to reach out to the people who don’t already attend meetings.
“It seems like you are just going through the motions,” said Aide Castro, a Maywood business owner and aid to Assemblyman Anthony Rendon.
She wanted to know why local business owners like her, and the nearly 40 members of the new Advisory Board overseeing the plant closure were not notified about the meeting.
“I didn’t say anything [before the meeting] on purpose, to see if you would send it,” she said. “If we’re not receiving a flyer it’s hard to phantom the community outreach is being done effectively.”
According to DTSC, however, board members were given a list of meeting dates during their first meeting on May 28 and the scoping meeting was discussed in depth during the June 11 advisory group meeting. DTSC spokeswoman Tamma Adadamek told EGP the agency enlists the help of members of the Community Advisory Group to share information discussed at our monthly meetings.
Site Project Manager Su Patel said DTSC mailed the meeting notice to 2,700 area residents and that hundreds of others on the agency’s email blast received an electronic notice.
That’s why it’s always the same people attending the meeting, complained Maywood Councilman Oscar Magaña, That number is much too low given that as many as 375,000 people live in Boyle Heights, Commerce, East Los Angeles, Maywood, Huntington Park and Vernon.
“I’m sure you’ve heard enough from these people,” he told regulators; you have to do something different. “The schools are usually a great place to pass out information around,” Magaña said.
But in addition to mailing out and emailing information according to DTSC, representatives have called and visited the homes of dozens and dozens of residents in the area. Adamek added that the agency regularly updates their website with new information about the Exide cleanup and closure.
The agency also holds a conference call every two weeks with community leaders to share information on the project, she added.
Boyle Heights resident Doelorez Mejia attends nearly every meeting related to Exide. She said holding the meeting in the southeast city of Maywood shows DTSC is starting to listen to the community, but pushed the agency to do much outreach.
“Put yourself on the agenda of the local school districts,” she suggested.
Magaña also recommended DTSC reach out to environmental justice groups, especially those already involved with the fight against Exide.
“Those people have experience canvassing, I bet you they would be more than willing to help,” he said, prompting applause from the audience.
Many of the people living in the neighborhoods and cities surrounding Exide are undocumented and fear retribution if they speak out, said Lopez, who is community co-chair of the Exide Advisory Board. He believes some people fear they will be forced to move if DTSC or other agencies get wind that they live in homes with unpermitted improvements, such as converted garages.
“This has led everyday residents and organizations to step in and fill the role of organizing the community,” he added. “There have been some improvements by DTSC, but a lot of that has been a result of pressure from the community.”
In an email to EGP DTSC officials said all the comments and questions raised by the community are being considered.
“We are happy to have suggestions on how to better reach the community. We want them to be informed about the closure, and they know best how they can be reached,” said Adamek.
Residents have until June 29 to submit comments regarding the Notice of Preparation. They will get a second chance when the DEIR is presented sometime in September, as well as have a chance to comment on the closure plan once it is approved.
The agency said the first phase of closure will take between 19 to 22 months and will include removing equipment and contaminated soil and demolishing buildings “down to dirt.” That phase is expected to take place sometime in Spring 2016.
Desde hace unos años, la Iglesia de la Resurrección en Boyle Heights ha sido el epicentro del movimiento para cerrar la planta de baterías de reciclaje Exide localizada en Vernon, un papel que continuó desempeñando la semana pasada como anfitriona de la primera reunión de un nuevo comité asesor encargado de supervisar el cierre de la controversial planta y la limpieza de contaminación de plomo y arsénico que dejó a su paso.
La reunión del 28 de mayo tuvo todas las características de una reunión tradicional del consejo de la ciudad o de la comisión, incluyendo la agenda requerida, minutos y el seguimiento del procedimiento parlamentario.
Read this article in English: Exide Advisory Group Assembles
En muchos aspectos, fue un paso sólido hacia el futuro para una comunidad que siempre se había sentido marginada por los reguladores estatales de contaminación.
“Aquí es donde empieza la asociación”, Barbara Lee, directora del Departamento de Control de Sustancias Tóxicas (DTSC), dijo con entusiasmo en la reunión inaugural del Grupo Asesor de Exide.
Con 37 miembros, el comité generalmente grande está compuesto por personas que representan a la comunidad, los organismos reguladores y funcionarios electos.
Debido a que la comunidad afectada es tan grande, nos pareció que un mayor número de miembros del comité sería apropiado, dijo la portavoz de DTSC Sandy Nax.
El comité se reunirá una vez al mes para revisar aspectos específicos del proceso de cierre, y para plantear preguntas como lo hicieron la semana pasada en temas tales como dónde se moverá el suelo tóxico. Los miembros del comité son el enlace entre los reguladores comunitarios y estatales que realizan el trabajo del día a día en la limpieza de los productos químicos tóxicos en la planta y en las comunidades cercanas.
El comité asesor se formó en respuesta a una avalancha de opinión pública negativa resultante de la mala respuesta de DTSC a las preocupaciones de la comunidad acerca de los productos químicos tóxicos que se arrojan ilegalmente de la planta de Vernon actualmente cerrada.
Lee, quien asumió el cargo más alto de DTSC hace apenas unos meses, se comprometió a principios de este año para asegurarse que se le otorgaría la palabra a la comunidad en el futuro. El comité asesor ayuda a Lee a cumplir esa promesa.
El subdirector de DTSC Jim Marxen dijo que el trabajo de la comisión pretende complementar las audiencias públicas que se llevarán a cabo. Ellos le darán a la comunidad otra oportunidad de expresar sus preocupaciones durante el proceso de cierre, dijo.
“El grupo estará involucrado desde el principio en el proceso”… ayudando a lograr un cambio y “ahorrarse el tiempo de cada uno” al “comunicar las necesidades de la comunidad”, dijo Marxen.
Se espera que los miembros de los comités consultivos vengan preparados para compartir ideas y proporcionar comentarios sobre el cierre y materiales de limpieza relacionados, y la preparación de los documentos necesarios para cumplir con la Ley de Calidad Ambiental de California (CEQA).
“Nunca hemos demolido una instalación de este riesgo”, señaló Jane Williams de Ciudadanos del Desierto Contra la Contaminación.
En primer lugar, el grupo debe contratar a un asesor técnico para explicar el alto volumen de datos de los miembros del comité técnico y revisarlos antes de tomar acción.
El comité también debe seleccionar un copresidente de la comunidad para unirse a Lee y a Barry Wallerstein director del Distrito de Gestión de Calidad del Aire de la Costa Sur para la moderación de las reuniones y establecer el tono para los debates.
Mirando alrededor de la sala de la semana pasada, Mark López con East Yard Communities señaló que sólo una cuarta parte de 37 miembros de la comisión no representan ya sea a un funcionario público o una agencia pública.
“Es un poco preocupante”, dijo.
Pero de acuerdo con Lee, más de un tercio de los miembros del comité son de la comunidad.
“Realmente tratamos de ser inclusivos”, dijo. “Quiero que el grupo sea eficaz”, agregó, explicando por qué no cree que sea una buena idea agregar más personas a la comisión.
La reunión del jueves pasado demostró que el grupo refleja muchos puntos de vista, y que los miembros están dispuestos a hablar con franqueza acerca de nuestro trabajo, dijo Nax.
Marxen dijo a los miembros del comité que ellos están encargados de comunicar y educar a sus respectivos constituyentes sobre el proceso de cierre, que comenzó formalmente en abril.
El cierre permanente viene después de años de violaciones de residuos peligrosos por Exide que expusieron a más de 110,000 personas en los barrios y ciudades del Este de Los Ángeles a Maywood a niveles tóxicos de arsénico y plomo, productos químicos conocidos por causar cáncer y trastornos neurológicos, problemas de aprendizaje y otras cuestiones de salud.
En marzo, la oficina del Fiscal de EE.UU. llegó a un acuerdo con Exide que permitiría a la empresa y a sus ejecutivos evitar la persecución penal a cambio del cierre definitivo de la planta de Vernon y la limpieza total del sitio y propiedades que hayan sido contaminadas.
La primera fase de cierre que incluirá la demolición de edificios, se espera que tome entre 19 a 22 meses, según el DTSC.
La próxima reunión consultiva se llevará a cabo en junio en la ciudad de Maywood. Las reuniones están abiertas al público.
For the past couple of years, Resurrection Church in Boyle Heights has been the epicenter of the movement to close down the Exide battery-recycling plant in Vernon, a role it continued to play last week as host to the first meeting of a new advisory committee charged with overseeing closure of the controversial facility and the cleanup of lead and arsenic contamination left in its wake.
The May 28 meeting had all the trappings of a traditional city council or commission meeting, including the requisite agenda, minutes and following of parliamentary procedure.
Gone were the loud protests and chants of past meetings in the Church Hall.
In many ways, it was a solid step into the future for a community that had long felt marginalized by state pollution regulators.
“This is where partnership begins,” Barbara Lee, director of the Department of Toxic Substances Control, said enthusiastically at the inaugural meeting of the Exide Advisory Group.
At 37 members, the unusually large committee is made up of people representing the community, regulatory agencies and elected officials. Because the impacted community is so large, we felt that a larger number of committee members was appropriate, said DTSC Spokesman Sandy Nax.
The committee is scheduled to meet once a month to review specifics of the closure process, and to raise questions as they did last week on such things as where toxic soil will be moved. Committee members are the liaison between the community and state regulators performing the day-to-day work on the cleanup of toxic chemicals at the plant and in surrounding communities.
“Now we have the tools and all the stakeholders involved…you really can bring about change” Lee told the group.
The advisory committee was formed in response to an avalanche of negative public opinion resulting from DTSC’s poor response to the community’s concerns about the toxic chemicals illegally spewing from the now-closed Vernon plant.
Lee, who took over the top DTSC post just a few months ago, pledged earlier this year to ensure the community would have its say in the future. The advisory committee helps Lee make good on that promise.
DTSC Deputy Director Jim Marxen said the committee’s work is intended to compliment the public hearings that will take place. They will give the community another opportunity to voice their concerns during the closure process, he said.
“The group will be involved early on in the process” … helping to bring about change and “save each other time” by “communicating the needs of the community,” Marxen said.
Advisory committee members are expected to come prepared to share ideas and provide comment on closure and cleanup related materials, and preparation of documents needed to comply with CEQA, the California Environmental Quality Act.
“We have never demolished a facility of this risk,” pointed out Jane Williams of Desert Citizens Against Pollution, referring to the magnitude of the hazardous waste cleanup
First, however, the group must hire a technical advisor to explain the large volume of technical data committee members will be asked to review before they take action.
The committee must also select a community co-chair to join Lee and South Coast Air Quality Management District Director Barry Wallerstein in moderating the meetings and setting the tone for discussions.
Looking around the room last week, Mark Lopez with East Yard Communities for Environmental Justice pointed out that only a quarter of the committee’s 37 members do not represent either a public official or public agency.
“It’s a little concerning,” he said.
But according to Lee, over a third of the committee’s members are from the community.
“We really tried to be inclusive,” she said. “I want the group to be effective,” she said, explaining why she does not think it a good idea to add more people to the committee.
Last Thursday’s meeting demonstrated that the group reflects many points of view, and that members are willing to speak frankly about our work, said Nax.
Marxen told committee members that they are tasked with communicating and educating their respective constituencies about the closure process, which formally started in April.
The permanent shut down comes following years of hazardous waste violations by Exide that exposed over 110,000 people in neighborhoods and cities from East Los Angels to Maywood to toxic levels of arsenic and lead, chemicals known to cause cancer and neurological disorders, learning disabilities and other health issues.
In March, the U.S. Attorney’s office struck a deal with Exide that would allow the company and executives to avoid criminal prosecution in exchange for the permanent closure of the Vernon plant and total cleanup of the site and properties found to have been contaminated.
The first phase of closure which will include the demolishing of buildings, is expected to take between 19 to 22 months, according to DTSC.
The next advisory meeting will take place some time in June in the city of Maywood. Meetings are open to the public.
Over 8,600 soil samples taken from properties north and south of the Exide Technologies plant in Vernon provided no indication that there is a defined pattern of lead distribution in the area, according to officials from the Department of Toxic Substances Control.
Both low and high concentrations of lead – a chemical known to cause neurological damage – were found throughout the 146 residential properties tested in the expanded assessment area, according to the data used to see how far lead concentrations extend from the plant site.
“We need to continue to do our homework,” said Rizgar Ghazi, division chief of permitting at DTSC. But “we still hold Exide responsible,” he assured EGP. “We are just trying to see what Exide is responsible for and make them clean it up.”
The testing was conducted as part of DTSC’s 2013 stipulation order with Exide, which requires the company to test and cleanup any contamination caused by their emissions.
In March, the U.S. Attorney’s Office struck a deal with Exide to close the Vernon plant in lieu of facing criminal charges related to decades of hazardous waste violations and exposing over 110,000 eastside residents to cancer-causing emissions.
On Wednesday night, DTSC officials met one-on-one with residents whose homes have already been tested for lead to explain the results of those tests.
Saturday meetings have been planned for later in the month and in early June to accommodate residents who could not attend Wednesday’s meeting.
“We are working in a very complex environment,” said Ghazi. “This is the first of a series of meetings,” he told EGP.
The additional data was collected late last year when the state agency began cleaning up some of the properties in Boyle Heights, East Los Angeles and Maywood that had previously been tested for contaminated soil. According to DTSC, 60 to 80 samples, taken at different depths and increments, were obtained from each property.
Ghazi said the agency did not find any concentrations of lead “that would constitute a danger.”
He told EGP that the industrial landscape in eastside communities, which includes a high number of freeways, rail yards and other similar industries, has contributed to the concentrations of metals and chemicals in the area.
In late 2013, testing began in the original assessment area that included 217 residential properties. As of last week, the cleanup at 76 homes has been completed and over 3,900 tons of soil removed from the properties.
DTSC officials expanded the original assessment area an additional mile from both the northern and southern borders based on modules prepared by the South Coast Air Quality Management District to determined which areas would most likely be impacted by Exide emissions.
Last month, eastside residents complained to DTSC Director Barbara Lee that the assessment area should be enlarged to include more communities near the Vernon plant.
Responding to complaints from residents that their concerns have fallen on deaf ears over the years, DTSC has announced the formation of an advisory committee to oversee the agency’s closure of the Exide plant and cleanup of surrounding residential properties.
DTSC is currently accepting applications from people interested in serving on the committee, however the size of the committee has not yet been decided.
Ghazi told EGP the committee will be all-inclusive and there are no requirements for members. However, he stressed the agency would prefer residents who live in the assessment area.
“This partnership will provide an open dialogue for the community to be apart of the process,” he said.
By May 15, Exide must submit to DTSC its plan for safely removing buildings on the site and for the clean up of hazardous waste, including soil and groundwater contamination.
DTSC will review the plan to determine if there are any deficiencies that need to be addressed. Once approved, the agency will prepare a CEQA document and present the draft plan to the public.
DTSC expects to hold public hearings on the closure plan and CEQA document by Fall 2015.
The demolition of the buildings and structures at the Exide plant is expected to begin Spring 2016 and continue for 19 to 24 months.
[Updated: April 16, 12p.m.]
“I’m sorry.” Two words Eastside residents never thought they would hear from the state agency charged with regulating a controversial Vernon-based acid-lead battery recycler found to have repeatedly violated toxic chemical air emissions standards.
For the first time since taking the helm of the Department of Toxic Substances Control, Director Barbara Lee personally addressed a public meeting discussing the now-closed Exide Technologies plant. DTSC has been heavily criticized for “failing” to protect the public from arsenic and lead emissions, chemicals known to cause cancer and neurological damage.
“I know many feel the department has failed you, I want to start of by saying I’m very sorry,” Lee told hundreds of residents and environmental activists during a meeting April 9 at Resurrection Church in Boyle Heights to discuss Exide’s closure plan.
The tone at last week’s meeting was quieter and less combative then past meetings, but skepticism and mistrust still hung heavy in the air.
“We want to know what happened …we want to know who is responsible,” demanded Mark Lopez, director of East Yard Communities for Environmental Justices.
Lopez asked Lee if she would consider opening a criminal investigation into DTSC’s handling of the Vernon plant, which it allowed to operate on an interim permit for decades despite being found to have exposed eastside residents to cancer-causing toxins.
Lee did not at first directly respond to the request, instead denying any criminal activity on the part of the department, but Lopez pressed on.
“We want accountability. What happened before was not your fault, but moving forward is all your responsibility,” said Lopez, drawing loud applause from the approximately 200 people at the meeting.
“Would you be willing to let me think about it?” Lee asked.
Lopez agreed, explaining he didn’t expect the DTSC director to make a decision right then and there. “I just want to make sure you respond on the record in front of all of us,” he said.
Lee was appointed to head DTSC about four months ago and was not part of the protracted battle to shutter the troubled plant, but said she understands why residents mistrust the agency.
“It’s important we do not let this happen again,” she said, promising to do things differently moving forward.
For more than a decade, area residents complained to DTSC and the South Coast Air Quality Management District about Exide, but it took an investigation by the U.S. Attorney’s office to permanently close down the facility.
Federal authorities announced last month that they had struck a deal to close the plant in exchange for Exide and its executives avoiding criminal prosecution for their illegal handling of hazardous waste. The deal requires Exide to pay the entire cost to clean its plant and homes in the surrounding community found to have been contaminated. DTSC will oversee the closure and clean up.
“We won folks,” Monsignor John Moretta happily told the crowd.
However, not everyone is as convinced or ready to forgive.
“I don’t want to hear I’m sorry because nobody is more sorry than me,” said a tearful Terry Cano before she shared that her father had died from cancer she believes was caused by Exide’s emissions.
“You’re telling me this is the best you can do,” she said, angry that there will be no criminal prosecutions.
The meeting drew residents from Boyle Heights, East Los Angeles, Maywood, Commerce and Huntington Park, the area most heavily impacted by Exide generated pollution. Several people said the deal did not do enough to compensate the people harmed by the Vernon plant.
Teresa Marquez told Lee she believes the director wants to move the agency forward, but questioned whether any DTSC employee had been fired over the agency’s handling of the facility.
Lee said DTSC is being overhauled and new deputy directors have been brought in to replace staff no longer at the agency.
That prompted Lopez to again push for a criminal investigation.
“We want to know where they are now and if they are working for another similar agency making those same [bad] decisions,” he said. There is no victory until a closer look is taken at the systemic problems that allowed a company like Exide to keep polluting the community for so long, without that, real change is not possible, Lopez said.
A Huntington Park resident asked Lee to consider expanding the area being tested for lead and arsenic to include more nearby communities. Currently, testing is focused on East L.A., Boyle Heights and Maywood, which Lee explained was determined by AQMD modeling that identified the areas most likely to be contaminated.
“Predictions also come in the form of weather forecasts and they’re not always right,” the resident responded.
Moving forward, Exide has to submit a closure/post closure plan to DTSC by May 15. The agency will review the plans for compliance then present the plan to the public for comment sometime in the fall. Removal of the buildings and structures at the site is expected to start in spring 2016 and take 19-24 months to complete.
“For too many years we did not listen well to you,” Lee told the audience, acknowledging that many residents are not yet ready to trust the agencies responsible for regulating Exide.
“I don’t expect by standing here I will change that, I have to earn your trust,” she said. “I can’t promise you I will always get it right, but I will always give it my best. I hope you will be ready to take one step forward with us,” she said.
“It’s refreshing to hear a different tone,” remarked Maywood Councilman Oscar Magaña.
But for Boyle Heights resident Joe Gonzalez, the fight is far from over.
“We haven’t won,” he said, “we just threw the first punch that will change the momentum.”
Driving near any of the five rendering plants in Vernon may cause you to wrinkle your nose and quickly roll up your windows to avoid the unpleasant odor coming from the facilities.
Vernon has been home to slaughterhouses and rendering plants like Farmer John for years, but while the city is mostly industrial, it is surrounded by residential neighborhoods in nearby cities.
Environmentalists say local residents have complained for decades about the stench coming from the facilities.
Now, the South Coast Air Quality Management District (AQMD) is stepping in and has proposed a new rule aimed at reducing the smelly emissions, changes a Vernon committee opposed in a letter sent to the agency.
Rule (PR) 415, first proposed in November 2014, would require new and existing rendering facilities, which convert animal waste into other usable commodities, to make equipment changes and implement best management practices.
The proposed rule, set to go before AQMD’s Governing Board July 10, is the result of findings by the Clean Communities Plan for Boyle Heights pilot program, which identified the air quality issue in communities near Vernon. Representatives of public officials, environmental agencies, labor unions and the medical community are part of the pilot.
“The very consistent, terrible smell has covered the southeast and forced people indoors for years,” said Mark Lopez of the environmental justice group East Yard Communities.
There are currently five rendering facilities in the entire Los Angeles Basin, all of them in Vernon and relatively close to one another. They are adjacent to the communities of Boyle Heights, East Los Angeles and Commerce.
According to AQMD, untreated emissions can be detected up to 20 miles away.
“Vernon was set up as an industrial city,” before homes were built in the surrounding communities, explains Leonard Grossberg, Vernon’s director of health and environmental control. “Now we need to be able to live in a symbiotic way,” he said, explaining the decision to weigh in on behalf of the city businesses that would be impacted.
Grossberg told EGP the city and area businesses have made odor control a priority for maintaining quality of life for their neighbors, but added the proposed rule changes fail to take into consideration when the smells are produced and how they can best be mitigated.
Last week, the Green Vernon Commission – created by the city to address sustainability and environmental responsibility issues ¬– sent a letter to AQMD asking the agency to delay the rulemaking process for 180 days to give the facilities time to present “vital information” they feel the agency did not consider.
“Businesses did not hear from AQMD until after they enacted the rules,” Grossberg said. “It was all done really without the input of businesses.”
Peter Corselli, one of the members of the Vernon Green Commission, told EGP the rule is a step in the wrong direction.
“This rule is based on nothing but a completely subjective nose,” he said.
Although Corselli, vice president of the U.S. Growers Cold Storage, will not be affected by the rendering rule, he told EGP he is concerned the stricter regulations will drive business out of town.
“At some point they [regulators] are going to push too hard and the businesses are going to pack up and move,” he said.
Grossberg told EGP he believes AQMD’s extra scrutiny and stricter air quality guidelines are the result of the long battle over emissions from Vernon-based lead battery recycler Exide Technologies, which last month struck a deal to shut down permanently to avoid criminal prosecution.
“Right now the public has the ear of AQMD,” Grossberg said.
“I wouldn’t be surprised if they saw Exide as a triumph and are now moving on to the next target,” Corselli told EGP.
AQMD disputes that claim and says a plan to address rendering plant odors has long been a priority for the community.
“The issue of rendering odors has been around for decades and is not a new issue,” AQMD officials told EGP in an email. “The issues at the Exide facility are completely independent and unrelated to this rule.”
According to AQMD, the agency has received comments from affected communities and requests for AQMD to take action.
AQMD would not say if it will delay the process, but did note that “staff is actively considering all comments received” and that a public hearing scheduled for May 1 has been pushed back to July.
The city’s five rendering plants estimate complying with the rule changes could cost each of the facilities around $1 million, said Grossberg, even though all the facilities are currently complying with air quality standards.
Citing information from the city’s fire department, the commission expressed concern that construction requirements, such as the enclosure of all processing areas, would violate the city’s fire code.
“The Vernon Fire Marshall would object to enclosing any processing areas as it would make fighting grease/oil fires more difficult,” reads the letter to AQMD.
Upgrades could require the plants to close during construction, putting 800 rendering jobs at stake, according to the commission.
Farmer John is the one of the largest employers in the city, employing nearly 1,300 workers. Corselli told EGP further regulating what is essentially a nuisance causing no direct harm, will kill business in the city.
“If we can truck out of California, we can truck into California,” said the frustrated business owner.
The rule change would require the facilities to implement new best management practices within 90 days; and more complicated requirements affecting facility permits within 180 days. Failure to comply could lead to closure, something city officials want to avoid.
“We need to think of all those employees who could lose their jobs,” said Councilwoman Melissa Ybarra. “We want to keep the jobs here in Vernon.”
AQMD evaluated odor complaints in the communities surrounding Vernon over a ten-year period. According to the agency, about 35 complaints were received during that time, however, AQMD inspectors could not trace the odor to a specific facility because of their close proximity to one another.
Similarly, according to Grossberg, the city of Vernon says it receives less than half a dozen complaints a year.
The small number of complaints does not justify such an expensive change in the rules, businesses point out. However, AQMD staff believes the “number of complaints is not a good indicator of the impact of odors on area residents.”
AQMD believes the long history of rendering plants in Vernon has caused longtime residents to feel the odors are a part of the area landscape that they cannot be changed.
During past community meetings, staff heard from residents who filed complaints in the past but saw no change, “resulting in a general sense from community members that reporting odors does not yield results.”
While Vernon’s 7-person committee does include representatives of the rendering plants, other members of the committee say they are concerned the proposed rule change is a slippery slope that could eventually lead to further regulation in other areas, such as food processors and bakeries that also emit odors.
“Instead of working with the businesses to come up with a solution, AQMD is coming in with their own solution,” Grossberg told EGP.
“Vernon is here for a reason…so the smells and industry didn’t bother society,” said Corselli. “Now residential is encroaching on Vernon and attacking [the city] for what it has always been.”
When news broke last summer that a grand jury was investigating Exide Technologies, community activists celebrated with cake and pizza at Resurrection Church in Boyle Heights.
Last weekend, following the announcement that the U.S. Attorney had reached an agreement to close down the plant permanently, they were back at the Church, this time celebrating with tequila and champagne.
Over 200 people were on hand to exalt the closure of the embattled acid-lead battery recycling plant in nearby Vernon.
The agreement calls for the immediate, permanent closure of Exide’s plant and for the company to spend millions to clean up the facility and nearby properties polluted by its toxic emissions. In exchange, the company and its executives will avoid criminal prosecution for its admitted decades long illegal handling of hazardous waste.
The mood Saturday was cheerful, food was plentiful and everyone, from the elected officials to the community activists and local residents, was smiling ear to ear on the “historic night.”
“Let’s continue the struggle, but tonight we celebrate,” Rev. Monsignor John Moretta told the crowd, drawing loud applause.
Last Thursday – the day the news broke – the regular bi-weekly meeting of environmental justice advocates East Yard Communities and Communities for a Better Environment to discuss the ongoing struggle with Exide, was replaced with music, hot dogs and dancing.
Modesta Carranza hosted the event in East Los Angeles and called the festivity a “celebration among neighbors,” with neighbors coming from Huntington Park, Maywood, Boyle Heights and beyond.
“In the long struggle for the civil rights of the Chicano/Latino community, it’s hard getting a victory,” so we have to celebrate them when they come, said Boyle Heights Neighborhood Council President Carlos Montes during the event.
Credit for the hard-fought victory belongs to the community, people at both events said.
“Money was against us but we did it with people power,” said 78-year-old Arturo Herrera. “We’ve been fighting for so long,” and now we know “what justice means.”
If you live in a low-income, immigrant community it’s harder to get government to listen to you, said East L.A. resident Victoria Zepeda.
“It takes many hands to make a masa (dough),” said Moretta before naming all the organizations that helped raise awareness of the environmental injustice.
Mark Lopez from East Yard Communities celebrated with his mother and daughter in East L.A. and reflected on how many generations were forced to endure Exide’s toxic emissions before action was finally taken.
“I never thought I would see the day,” echoed his mother Elsa Lopez, whose fight to close the plant goes back decades with the Mothers of East L.A.
Behind all the celebrations and feelings of victory, however, there remains nagging doubt, state regulators are up to the task of forcing Exide to live up to its agreement with federal authorities.
There is also anger that no one will be criminally prosecuted for releasing lead, arsenic and other toxins into the air and groundwater, exposing over 100,000 people to cancer causing levels of toxic chemicals.
It’s hard to forget how long it’s taken elected officials and regulators to act, said many of the people involved in the anti-Exide movement.
“Nobody believed how bad it was,” said Boyle Heights resident Teresa Marquez. They did not believe this could be going on in a state with so many environmental protection laws, she said. But Marquez never believed claims by Exide and state officials that the company was not a danger to the community.
“We knew Exide would lie, but DTSC and AQMD? We wanted to trust them,” she angrily recalls.
Terry Cano was not sure how to feel when she heard Exide was being forced to close because she never thought she would live to see the day.
“My first reaction was shock, I was happy,” said Cano. But “I really got angry and disappointed” when I heard the terms of the agreement, said the Boyle Heights resident.
“They literally got away with murder,” she said in disgust.
Mark Lopez shares the sentiment. “When crime is committed in our neighborhoods we go to jail, sometimes we’re even deported, so for them to just pay a fine and leave is ridiculous,” said the clearly disappointed Lopez. “Our lives are not a parking ticket. We deserve better.”
California’s Department of Toxic Substance Control, DTSC, was not a party to the negotiations between Exide and federal authorities, but has been charged with making sure Exide’s complies with the terms of the deal.
The agency said the first phase of closure will take between 19 to 22 months and will include demolishing buildings “down to dirt.”
The second phase will involve cleaning beyond the facility and into the neighborhoods.
DTSC had earlier secured $14 million from Exide for the clean up of 216 potentially contaminated properties, although some of that amount still has to be approved by bankruptcy court later this month.
DTSC Director Barbara Lee claims the U.S. Attorney’s agreement will accelerate the payment schedule and ultimately “minimize the cost to the state.”
As a result, “[Exide] has a much greater incentive to work with us,” she said.
According to Lee, DTSC had already started the process to deny Exide’s application for a permanent permit — the company had been allowed to operate with a temporary one for more than three decades — when federal authorities struck their deal.
“[Exide] knew we were going to deny their permit and that they were going to be shut down irrespective of what the USAO was going to do,” Lee said.
Herrera says he was surprised that the U.S. Attorney’s office got involved.
“The [federal government] and local politicians really came through for our community,” he said. “The state never stuck up for us.”
Many like Herrera are angry DTSC did not act sooner. They are also angry Gov. Jerry Brown last year vetoed Sen. Kevin de Leon’s bill to create stricter oversight of state agencies like DTSC.
“Yes Exide is down, but DTSC is now responsible for the mess they allowed here in our communities,” said Lopez.
“The state of California needs reform and laws with teeth that will stick,” Marquez said.
Leading environmental groups are calling for an overhaul of the state’s regulatory agencies, with some going so far as to demand DTSC be shut down until it can be reorganized.
“I hope it’s legit,” said Rhianna Morales bluntly about the closure. “I hope [Exide] doesn’t come back with something.”
Lee, who has only been in her position for three months and inherited the mess from her predecessors, defends the agency against accusations it has repeatedly failed to take decisive action against Exide. She points out the agency has in recent years collected millions of dollars in fines from Exide, and that’s it’s effort to close the plant was thwarted by the courts.
“I have a lot of hope that Barbara [Lee] will turn the agency around,” says Herrera, but “to us, they are still the same agency.
Elsa Lopez thinks Exide “got off easy” and “should be charged with murder.”
Marquez told EGP, “Somebody has to get fired.”
Montes worries Exide will just move elsewhere and contaminate another community.
“[Exide’s] priority isn’t cleaning up, its making a profit,” he said.
The U.S. Attorney said its deal with Exide would allow the company to remain financially solvent so it can pay to clean up the damage it has caused. If they don’t, they will be criminally prosecuted.
For now, Boyle Heights resident Ethel Lopez, 60, is relieved that she will be able to breath fresh, clean air.
“We are getting rid of a polluter,” said Lopez. “As long as they are out, we should be fine.”
Many residents told EGP they feel they have helped secure a clean, safe environment for future generations.
“I’m very happy that this isn’t going to have to be my daughter’s fight,” Mark Lopez said.
“The next step is to make sure they clean up the site at Exide’s expense not at the cost of the community,” said Huntington Park Mayor Karina Macias. “We need to hold these agencies accountable so this doesn’t happen again.”
“You can watch us going forward, we will clean this up,” promised Lee.
Cuando se supo la noticia el verano pasado de que un jurado estaba investigando a Exide Technologies, activistas de la comunidad celebraron con pastel y pizza en la Iglesia de la Resurrección en Boyle Heights, al ver la noticia como el comienzo del fin de la planta contaminadora desde hace mucho tiempo.
La semana pasada, tras el anuncio de que el Fiscal Federal había llegado a un acuerdo para cerrar la planta de Vernon permanentemente, ellos regresaron a la iglesia, esta vez celebrando con tequila y champán.
Read this article in English: Community Celebrates Exide Closure, but Doubts Remain
Más de 200 personas estuvieron presentes para exaltar el cierre de la planta de reciclaje de baterías de ácido-plomo que asediaba las cercanías de Vernon.
El acuerdo pide el cierre inmediato y permanente de la planta de Exide en Vernon y que la empresa gaste millones para limpiar las instalaciones y propiedades cercanas contaminadas por sus emisiones tóxicas. A cambio, la empresa y sus ejecutivos evitarán persecución penal por sus admitidas décadas ilegales de manejar residuos peligrosos.
El ambiente del sábado era agradable, había comida para todos, y desde oficiales electos a activistas de la comunidad y residentes locales, todos sonreían de oreja a oreja en la “noche histórica”.
“Vamos a continuar con la pelea, pero esta noche celebramos”, el Reverendo Monseñor John Moretta le dijo a la multitud, causando aplausos.
El jueves pasado—el día que se dio a conocer la noticia—la habitual reunión quincenal de partidarios de la justicia ambiental East Yard Communities y Comunidades por un Mejor Ambiente en lugar de discutir el problema constante con Exide, festejaron con música, hot dogs y baile.
Modesta Carranza organizó el evento en el Este de Los Ángeles y llamó la fiesta una “celebración entre vecinos”, con los vecinos de Huntington Park, Maywood, Boyle Heights y otros.
“En la larga lucha por los derechos civiles de la comunidad chicana/latina, es difícil obtener una victoria”, así que tenemos que celebrar cuando vengan, dijo durante el evento el presidente del Consejo Vecinal de Boyle Heights Carlos Montes.
El crédito para la victoria duramente trabajada pertenece a la comunidad, dijo la gente en ambos eventos.
“El dinero estaba en contra de nosotros, pero lo hicimos con el poder de la gente”, dijo Herrera. “Hemos estado luchando durante tanto tiempo”, y ahora sabemos “lo que significa la justicia para nosotros”.
Si usted vive en una comunidad de bajos ingresos, es más difícil que el gobierno escuche a la comunidad inmigrante, dijo la residente del Este de LA Victoria Zepeda.
“Se necesitan muchas manos para hacer una masa”, dijo Moretta antes de nombrar a todas las organizaciones que ayudaron a crear conciencia de la injusticia ambiental.
Mark López de East Yard Communities celebró con su madre y su hija en el Este de Los Ángeles y reflexionó sobre cómo muchas generaciones fueron obligadas a soportar las emisiones tóxicas de Exide antes de que finalmente se tomaran medidas.
“Nunca pensé que vería el día”, dijo su madre Elsa López, cuya lucha para cerrar la planta se remonta décadas con el grupo Madres del Este de Los Ángeles.
Detrás de todas las celebraciones y la sensación de victoria, sin embargo, persiste la duda de que los reguladores estatales puedan forzar a Exide a que cumpla su acuerdo con las autoridades federales.
También existe ira debido a que nadie será procesado penalmente por la liberación de plomo y arsénico en el aire y agua subterráneas, exponiendo a más de 100.000 personas durante décadas a niveles de toxinas que podrían causar cáncer.
Es difícil olvidar el tiempo que han tardado para actuar funcionarios y reguladores elegidos, dijeron muchas de las personas involucradas en el movimiento anti-Exide.
“Nadie creía en lo malo que era”, dijo la residente de Boyle Heights Teresa Márquez. Ella dijo que nunca creyó las afirmaciones de funcionarios de Exide y estatales de que la empresa no era un peligro para la comunidad.
“Sabíamos que Exide mentía, ¿Pero DTSC y AQMD? Queríamos que confiar en ellos”, recuerda con rabia.
Terry Cano no estaba segura de cómo se sintió cuando oyó que Exide estaba siendo obligado a cerrar porque ella nunca pensó que viviría para ver este día.
“Mi primera reacción fue de sorpresa, yo estaba feliz”, dijo Cano. Pero “Realmente me enojé y me decepcioné cuando me enteré de los términos del acuerdo, dijo la residente de Boyle Heights.
“Ellos literalmente se salieron con la suya”, dijo con disgusto.
Mark López comparte su sentimiento.
“Cuando se comete el crimen en nuestros vecindarios vamos a la cárcel, algunas veces incluso nos deportan, y para ellos sólo pagan una multa y se van ¡es ridículo!”, dijo el claramente decepcionado López. “Nuestras vidas no son una infracción de estacionamiento. Nos merecemos algo mejor”.
El Departamento de Control de Sustancias Tóxicas de California (DTSC), no tomó parte en las negociaciones entre Exide y autoridades federales, pero se ha encargado de asegurarse que Exide cumpla con los términos del acuerdo.
La agencia dijo que la primera fase del cierre tomará de 19 a 22 meses e incluirá demoler los edificios “a polvo”.
La segunda fase implicará la limpieza más allá de la planta y en los vecindarios.
Anteriormente DTSC había asegurado $14 millones de Exide para limpiar las 216 propiedades potencialmente contaminadas, aunque algo de esa cantidad todavía tiene que ser aprobado por la corte de bancarrota a finales de este mes.
La Directora de DTSC Bárbara Lee afirma que el acuerdo del Fiscal de EE.UU. acelerará el calendario de pagos y en última instancia “minimizará el costo para el Estado”.
Como resultado, “[Exide] tiene mucho mayor incentivo para trabajar con nosotros”, dijo Lee.
Según Lee, DTSC ya había comenzado el proceso de negar la solicitud a Exide para un permiso permanente—la compañía había sido autorizada a operar con uno temporal durante más de tres décadas—cuando las autoridades federales descubrieron su trato.
“[Exide] sabía que íbamos a negar su permiso y que les íbamos a cerrar, independientemente de lo que el USAO iba a hacer”, dijo Lee.
Herrera dice que se sorprendió de que la oficina del Fiscal de EE.UU. se involucrara.
“El [gobierno federal] y políticos locales realmente vinieron por nuestra comunidad”, dijo. “El Estado nunca nos apoyó”.
Muchos como Herrera están enojados de que DTSC no actuó antes. Ellos también están enojados con el Gobernador Jerry Brown después que el año pasado vetara la ley del Senador Kevin de León para crear una supervisión más estricta a las agencias estatales como DTSC.
“Sí, Exide esta cerrado, pero DTSC ahora es responsable por el lío que permitieron aquí en nuestras comunidades”, dijo Herrera.
“El estado de California necesita reformas y leyes con agallas que se acaten”, dijo Márquez.
Los principales grupos ecologistas están pidiendo una revisión de las agencias reguladoras del estado, con algunos hasta demandar a que DTSC cierre hasta que pueda reorganizarse.
Lee, quien ha estado en su posición solo por tres meses ha heredado el desorden de sus predecesores, pero defiende al organismo contra las acusaciones de que ha fracasado varias veces para tomar una acción decisiva contra Exide. Ella señala que la agencia en los últimos años ha colectado millones de dólares en multas de Exide, y ese esfuerzo para cerrar la planta fue frustrado por los tribunales.
“Tengo mucha esperanza de que Bárbara [Lee] podrá cambiar la agencia”, dice Herrera, pero “para nosotros siguen siendo la misma agencia”.
A Montes le preocupa que Exide solo se traslade a otro lugar y continúe contaminando a otra comunidad.
“La prioridad [de Exide] no es la limpieza, es ganancias”, dijo.
El fiscal federal dijo que su trato con Exide permitiría que la empresa siga siendo financieramente solvente para que pueda pagar para limpiar el daño que ha causado. Si no lo hacen, serán procesados de forma penal.
Muchos residentes le dijeron a EGP que sienten que han ayudado a asegurar un ambiente limpio y seguro para las generaciones futuras.
“Estoy muy feliz de que esto no va a tener que ser la lucha de mi hija”, dijo Mark López.
“El siguiente paso es asegurarse de que limpien el sitio a costos de Exide y no de la comunidad”, dijo Karina Macias, alcaldesa de Huntington Park. “Tenemos que mantener estas agencias responsables para que esto no vuelva a suceder”.
“Usted puede vernos avanzar, vamos a limpiar esto”, prometió Lee.
The U.S. Attorney’s announcement March 12 that it has reached an agreement with Exide Technologies to close its Vernon plant is certainly good news given the facility’s troubling history of toxic chemical emission and hazardous waste violations.
The acid-lead battery recycler has been operating for nearly three decades under a temporary permit, which gives new meaning to “temporary” here in Los Angeles County.
More than any other factor, we believe it was the unrelenting demonstrations and pressure from the community that is ultimately responsible for the U.S. Attorney’s decision to investigate and pursue charges against the company.
We salute the residents in Boyle Heights, Maywood, East Los Angeles, Huntington Park, and other neighborhoods for bringing this polluter its day of reckoning.
Exide demonstrated little to no respect for the residents who live near its plant or care about the trail of contamination it has left in our air, water and land.
Nor did the company care that it exposed thousands of residents to unsafe levels of cancer causing chemicals.
But state regulators are also deserving of blame in this environmental debacle.
They allowed Exide to stay in operation even after the California Department of Toxic Substance Control cited the company repeatedly for its unsafe emission levels of lead and other contaminants, and its unsafe handling of hazardous waste.
Exide entered into an agreement in the fall of 2014 with state regulators to set aside $38.6 million for the environmental clean up of the recycling facility should it close down due to its inability to operate the facility in a safe manner.
But it wasn’t until a criminal investigation was launched by federal authorities — which included the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the U.S. Department of Transportation — that Exide is finally being held responsible for what the company admits is its years of illegal handling of hazardous waste.
Unfortunately, the agreement does not send anyone to jail and gross polluters, like criminal bankers and stock manipulators, will escape incarceration.
And while local residents and environmental activists are cheering news that the Vernon battery recycling plant will not only be permanently closed but demolished, they lack faith in state regulators to ensure Exide lives up to the terms of its agreement with federal authorities,
Their doubts are not unreasonable, given the decades of inaction by state agencies.
Even Gov. Brown, California’s sometimes-environmental hero, vetoed a law that would have required stricter oversight of regulatory agencies.
It’s long past time for State Legislators to pass legislation –and the governor to sign – that will bring greater oversight of DTSC, AQMD, and to set tighter standards for closing down toxic polluters.
Dozens of residents from Boyle Heights to Maywood celebrated the news that the controversial Exide battery recycling plant will finally be shutting its doors for good.
Residents and environmental activists danced, ate and cheered at a nighttime gathering held at an East Los Angeles home Thursday.
Some of the celebrants were meeting for the first time, united by the struggle and now victory to permanently shutter the toxic polluter in their backyard.
Exide Technologies reached an agreement with the U.S. Attorney’s office late Wednesday, under which the company admitted that its Vernon plant had been illegally storing, spewing and transporting lead and arsenic – chemicals known to cause birth defects, cancer and learning disabilities – into the air, soil and streets for decades, but will avoid criminal prosecution in exchange for shutting down, demolishing and cleaning the smelting plant.
Payments used to clean up the site and surrounding communities – agreed upon in Exide’s Chapter 11 bankruptcy proceedings – will be expedited under the USAO’s agreement.
As many as 110,000 people in Vernon, Boyle Heights, Maywood and other nearby communities were exposed to cancer causing levels of lead and arsenic, according to state air quality regulators.
The closure was great news, worthy of celebration, but the issue is far from over, said several people.
Pressure has to be kept on state regulators, the Department of Toxic Substance Control, to ensure they enforce the agreement, they said.