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.

Panel de la Asamblea Cuestiona las Acciones de Exide

January 28, 2016 by · Leave a Comment 

Después de años de indignación pública sobre la contaminación de Exide Technologies a ciudades y barrios del este y sureste de Los Ángeles finalmente parece estar llamando la atención de legisladores estatales, probablemente en respuesta a las crecientes acusaciones que California tiene un doble estándar cuando se trata de cómo maneja las emergencias ambientales y de salud en las comunidades latinas de bajos recursos.

Read this article in English: Assembly Questions Actions on Exide

El martes, el Comité de la Asamblea sobre Seguridad Medioambiental y Materiales Tóxicos llevó a cabo una audiencia en Sacramento sobre los planes para descontaminar la planta de reciclaje de baterías, actualmente cerrada, en Vernon la cual se cree ha contaminado hasta 10.000 hogares y negocios con plomo y arsénico, poniendo a más de 100.000 personas en mayor situación de riesgo ante enfermedades neurológicas y cáncer.

Fue la primera audiencia por funcionarios electos estatales desde que las protestas por las reiteradas violaciones de la planta de las normas de emisiones químicas tóxicas se hicieron públicas en 2013.

Como EGP informó por primera vez, los residentes del Este de Los Ángeles, Boyle Heights, Commerce, Maywood, Bell y Huntington Park están cada vez más frustrados y enojados por el “doble estándar” que han observado entre el trato dado al problema de la fuga de gas en Porter Ranch donde la mayoría de residentes son afluentes de raza blanca y la contaminación de plomo de Exide donde las comunidades afectadas son predominantemente latinas de clase trabajadora.

“Tal vez deberíamos llamarnos Boyle Heights Ranch, tal vez nos darían más atención”, el Monseñor John Moretta de la Iglesia de la Resurrección dijo al comité el martes.

Residentes del Este y Sureste de Los Ángeles se reúnen con miembros de la asamblea en Sacramento para hablar sobre la contaminación de la planta Exide Technologies en Vernon. (Oficina de la Sup. Hilda Sólis)

Residentes del Este y Sureste de Los Ángeles se reúnen con miembros de la asamblea en Sacramento para hablar sobre la contaminación de la planta Exide Technologies en Vernon. (Oficina de la Sup. Hilda Sólis)

En conferencia de prensa antes de la audiencia, la supervisora del Condado de Los Ángeles, Hilda Solís, el senador y presidente electo de la asamblea Anthony Rendón, y el asambleísta Miguel Santiago pidieron al Estado a destinar $70 millones de presupuesto del próximo año para pagar por la limpieza de las propiedades residenciales más contaminadas.

“Una enfermedad invisible ha afectado a estas comunidades, se trata de un caso de injusticia ambiental”, dijo Solís, denunciando a los reguladores estatales por su lento progreso en la eliminación del suelo contaminado con plomo de los hogares del este y sureste. Sugirió que el dinero podría ser recuperado después cobrándole a Exide. Una demanda podría ser requerida.

“DTSC no ha hecho un buen trabajo en la limpieza”, dijo Rendón. “Necesitamos asegurarnos que Exide limpie el desorden que dejó en nuestras comunidades”.

Junto a los funcionarios en la conferencia de prensa y para la audiencia estaba también un autobús lleno de residentes de las áreas afectadas. Habían viajado al Capitolio para exigir el mismo nivel de acción por parte del estado que se le está dando a la fuga de gas de Aliso Canyon en Porter Ranch, y dijeron a los miembros del comité que los reguladores estatales necesitan acelerar la eliminación del plomo del suelo contaminado de su hogares.

Hasta el momento, el Departamento de Control de Sustancias Tóxicas (DTSC) ha limpiado alrededor de 200 propiedades en la zona designada de contaminación.

El resentimiento creció después que el gobernador Jerry Brown se negara a abordar personalmente la “catástrofe” de Exide algo que si hizo en Porter Ranch, donde ha declarado estado de emergencia.

“Podemos culpar a DTSC por el manejo y la aplicación de Exide y por tomarse tanto tiempo, pero no los podemos culpar por que el gobernador no les dio dinero para limpiar la contaminación”, Mark López, activista con East Yards para la Justicia Ambiental le dijo a EGP antes de la audiencia.

Durante la reunión del comité del martes, el asambleísta Santiago repetidamente preguntó a la directora de DTSC Bárbara Lee si existían obstáculos que limitan el aumento del número de viviendas que se limpian cada semana. Ella no respondió directamente a sus investigaciones, pero dijo que DTSC esta limpiando tres propiedades por semana. A ese ritmo, se tardará siete años en limpiar las 1.000 propiedades, dijo Lee.

“Tenemos una sentencia de muerte, no podemos esperar más”, dijo entre lágrimas Terry Cano, una de los residentes de Boyle Heights que viajó a la capital del estado a declarar. Ella alegó que miembros de su familia han muerto de cáncer causado por contaminantes de Exide en su comunidad.

Cano también expresó su frustración con el enfoque de la agencia estatal sobre la contaminación en las instalaciones ahora vacantes de Exide en lugar de centrarse en los lugares donde la gente todavía vive.

“Esto es el equivalente a responder a un edificio en llamas y que los bomberos respondan al fuego y no a la familia que se esta muriendo”, se quejó.

“Una enfermedad invisible ha afectado a estas comunidades", dijo la Sup. Sólis durante la audiencia. (Oficina de la Sup. Sólis)

“Una enfermedad invisible ha afectado a estas comunidades”, dijo la Sup. Sólis durante la audiencia. (Oficina de la Sup. Sólis)

Lee defendió las acciones de la agencia, señalando que 22.000 horas de tiempo del personal se han dedicado a trabajar en el cierre de Exide. Agregó que la Administración Brown ha sido un gran apoyo en su trabajo, asignando $7 millones en fondos estatales para las pruebas y la limpieza.

Sin embargo, funcionarios electos locales dijeron que no se ha hecho lo suficiente.

“DTSC le ha fallado a nuestra comunidad”, dijo Santiago.

Hay una preocupación de que el dinero está detrás de la respuesta del Estado a la limpieza.

La asambleísta Cristina García llama a los $8 millones de presupuesto del gobernador para la limpieza de Exide “insultante”.

“Se siente como si el gobierno está simplemente lanzando monedas de un centavo a la gente [de bajos recursos] para mantenernos tranquilos”, dijo.

Instó al Comité a recomendar al Estado que de ser necesario busquen en la reserva, para garantizar que el gobernador asigne $70 millones en el presupuesto de este año.

“Tenemos que hacer las cosas bien y mostrar a los residentes de las comunidades de bajos ingresos que son predominantemente latinos son tan importantes como nuestros homólogos de las comunidades más afluentes”.

Jane Williams, directora ejecutiva de Comunidades de California Contra Tóxicos, sugirió a los legisladores estatales que consideren un impuesto de batería para ayudar a compensar el costo asociado con la limpieza en lugar de esperar a que Exide asigne los fondos. Ella le dijo al comité que la compañía de reciclaje de baterías tenía una larga historia de contaminación en sus plantas en todo el país.

“Exide tiene un patrón y práctica de ir contaminando comunidades y dejando su contaminación”, dijo.

La alcaldesa de Huntington Park, Karina Macias, dijo que ha hablado con muchos residentes que se sienten frustrados con el proceso y no ve ningún plan financiero claro ni un compromiso. También expresó su frustración de que el comité esperó hasta el final de la larga reunión de cuatro horas para escuchar a los ciudadanos, las víctimas de la crisis. Casi todos los residentes que viajaron a Sacramento tuvieron que abandonar la reunión para recuperar el autobús de regreso a casa, sólo uno se quedó a declarar.

“Han estado esperando por mucho tiempo”, dijo antes de entregar las cartas de la comunidad para el registro.

Eduardo de la Riva, concejal en Maywood, dijo que no aprecia que representantes de Exide en la reunión trataron de cambiar la culpa de los altos niveles de plomo en el lado Este a otras causas, como la pintura con plomo, autopistas cercanas y el entorno industrial. Pidió que la agencia estatal reconozca que la limpieza debe ser su prioridad.

“Aplaudimos a DTSC para los pasos que ahora están empezando a tomar, pero el daño ya está hecho”, dijo. “Debemos actuar ahora”.

Una grabación de vídeo de la audiencia se puede ver en línea en http://calchannel.granicus.com/MediaPlayer.php?view_id=7&clip_id=3327

—-

Twitter @nancyreporting

nmartinez@egpnews.com

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

—-

Twitter @nancyreporting

nmartinez@egpnews.com

Exide, Porter Ranch: A Double Standard

January 14, 2016 by · 1 Comment 

The complaints of headaches, bloody noses and asthma by Porter Ranch residents sound all to familiar to eastside activists who’ve spent years fighting their own large scale local environmental health hazard.

So are the demands for government officials to immediately shut down Southern California Gas Co.’s natural gas storage facilities near Porter Ranch that residents blame for their health crisis.

Lea este artículo en Español: Exide, Porter Ranch; Un Doble Estándar

Strikingly different, however, has been the response from state regulators and elected officials – including Gov. Jerry Brown –who for years failed to take the same level of bold action to stop Vernon-based Exide Technologies from putting the lives of thousands of east and southeast working class, predominately Latino residents at risk.

Money, race and political power are at the root of the inequity, activists claim.

Armed with high-powered attorneys, residents in Porter Ranch are demanding the closure of SoCal Gas’ Aliso Canyon facility where a leak was discovered Oct. 23, leading to hundreds of complaints from residents about negative health effects and demands for the utility company to pay to relocate residents in the impacted area. In less than three months more than 2,000 residents have been relocated, schools have been shut down, students were moved and the company is expected to pay for the housing of pets and additional policing.

Residents from Boyle Heights to Commerce angrily protest Governor Brown’s silence on the Exide Technology pollution scandal during a red ribbon cutting ceremony he attended in November not far from the Vernon battery recycling plant. (EGP photo by Fred Zermeno)

Residents from Boyle Heights to Commerce angrily protest Governor Brown’s silence on the Exide Technology pollution scandal during a red ribbon cutting ceremony he attended in November not far from the Vernon battery recycling plant. (EGP photo by Fred Zermeno)

No one denies the seriousness of the problem in Porter Ranch, but east and southeast area residents and activists can’t help feeling there’s a double standard at play, especially when it comes to Gov. Brown who last week declared a State of Emergency in Porter Ranch after touring the Aliso Canyon facility and meeting with affected residents, something he’s failed to do in the Exide case.

His declaration allows the state to mobilize the necessary state personnel, equipment and facilities, and to waive any laws or regulations in place to deal with the environmental issue. It also gives the governor power to allocate emergency funding to fix the leak, which is expected to take three to four months to repair.

Boyle Heights resident Doelorez Mejia was pleased to see the quick call to action by the governor and state officials in Porter Ranch, but couldn’t help feeling the injustice of the situation.

“I’m disappointed our community was not considered as worthy for such swift protection,” she told EGP. “But sadly, I’m not surprised.”

She was referring to the years that pleas from residents living near the Exide acid-lead battery recycling plant were ignored. And the dozens of meetings where residents testified about the people – young and old – in their families with cancer, children with learning disabilities and other illnesses they say can be blamed on years of breathing in the toxic chemicals spewing from the Exide plant.

In 2013, air quality officials reported that Exide had violated toxic chemical emissions putting more than 110,000 east and southeast area residents at a higher-risk of cancer. Lead and arsenic had been found in the soil at nearby homes and at least one park.

It wasn’t the first time Exide had violated state standards on toxic emissions, nor would it be the last.
But unlike in Porter Ranch, demands around Exide went unheeded. Residents were not relocated, classes were not cancelled and the facility could not be closed despite operating for decades on a temporary permit issued by the California Department of Toxic Substance Control (DTSC).

Public outcry during dozens of community meetings, hearings and protest marches over their exposure to toxic levels of arsenic and lead – known to cause permanent neurological damage to children and pregnant woman – failed to force the closure of the facility. In fact, it took the U.S. Attorney’s Office stepping in and strong-arming Exide – with the threat of federal criminal charges – to agree to a negotiated permanent shut down in April 2015.

Testing and air emission modeling in the area now show that as many as two million people may be at an elevated risk for cancer and other health issues due to years of exposure to lead from the Exide plant. State toxic regulators now believe that upwards of 10,000 properties may need to be tested and decontaminated. So far, only 184 contaminated properties have been cleaned.

Exide was allowed to open adjacent to homes that had been in the area for generations. In Porter Ranch, city planners had allowed developers to build on vacant land next the Aliso Canyon facility, which had been there for decades.

Residentes afectados por Exide protestaron durante una ceremonia en noviembre donde asistió el gobernador Jerry Brown, quien no se ha pronunciado al respecto. (EGP foto por Fred Zermeno)

An appearance by Gov. Jerry Brown at the opening of a new hotel in Bell Gardens two months ago drew loud protests from activists angry that he has yet to speak out on the Exide Technologies pollution scandal. (Photo courtesy of East Yard Communities for Environmental Justice)

Boyle Heights resident Teresa Marquez acknowledges that both the Porter Ranch and Exide environmental hazards pose a threat to public health, but says she knew the response would be drastically different in Porter Ranch,  since even at the local level public officials have been more active in the Valley.

Boyle Heights is a neighborhood in the city of Los Angeles, Marquez pointed out, yet Mayor Eric Garcetti has not made an appearance at an Exide meeting or made public statements calling for a prompt response the way he has about the gas leak, she said disappointingly. Where’s the city attorney, who is now filing lawsuits to protect Porter Ranch residents?

“The key difference is money and white,” she said frankly. “And we’re just poor Latinos.”

Porter Ranch is a more affluent Los Angeles neighborhood located at the northwest edge of the San Fernando Valley. Its residents are mostly white, with a medium household income of over $120,000. In contrast, Exide’s contamination impacts the highly dense communities of Bell, Boyle Heights, Commerce, unincorporated East Los Angeles, Huntington Park, Maywood and Vernon; all home to mostly working class Latinos.

“I can’t help but wonder why the horrible disaster at Porter Ranch has captured so much attention, while the equally horrible disaster at Exide has captured so little,” Los Angeles County Board Supervisor Chair Hilda L. Solis told EGP in an emailed statement.

It was not until the facility was forced to close that eastside residents began to see elected officials take notice of their concerns, said Marquez. But even as they celebrated that victory many residents knew the challenge ahead was cleaning up the lead from dirt that to this day prevent children from playing in their own backyards.

“They wouldn’t dare relocate [Porter Ranch] families into our communities,” said Mark Lopez, executive director of East Yard Communities for Environmental Justice.

He told EGP their anger is not at Porter Ranch or its residents, but at the state and governor “who can be responsive but chose not to respond.”

“The gas leak should have been shut down last month, that being said, Exide should have been shut down decades ago.”

Late last year Brown attended a hotel opening in Bell Gardens, not far from Exide. Lopez and other eastside residents were also there, outside angrily protesting the governor’s silence on Exide. They carried signs and a 10-foot paper-mache effigy of Brown. Unlike in Porter Ranch, the governor has yet to visit communities impacted by Exide or publicly comment on the long-playing Exide environmental crisis, despite it now being called one of the largest public health disasters in the state’s history.

Gladys Limon, staff attorney for Communities for a Better Environment told EGP the governor’s and state agencies’ responses to the Porter Ranch catastrophe reveal a stark racial disparity in efforts to protect communities from health and safety risks caused by industrial operations.

“The state neglected the thousands of families in Southeast and East L.A. for decades, and the Governor to this day has failed to personally acknowledge the Exide health emergency and to meet with residents,” she said.

Former County Supervisor Gloria Molina told EGP that she continuously called the governor’s office to get him to take action, but never got a call back.

“The governor is totally uninterested,” she said, adding it may have something to do with the low number of registered voters in the area.

“He takes pride in being the environmental governor but he seems more interested in protecting trees than people,” Molina said.

Some environmental activists say they believe the governor’s response to the Aliso Canyon gas leak may be more in line with his commitment to be the world’s leader in reducing greenhouse emissions, than about health concerns.

Marquez said she was surprised to hear Brown had met with Porter Ranch residents.

“He hasn’t spoken to us,” she said. “I don’t know why he hasn’t taken similar action … he just simply doesn’t care about our community.”

EGP reached out to the governor to get his response to concerns by eastside residents that he has been indifferent to their plight, but, in keeping with the criticism from the community and elected officials, Brown again failed to personally comment on the situation. Instead he passed off our request to the Department of Toxic Substance Control, the state regulatory agency in charge of the cleanup, which has for years been strongly criticized for its handling of Exide.

“Protecting the community around the Exide Technologies facility in Vernon is a high priority for the Administration,” reads the response from DTSC spokesman Sandy Nax, who credited the governor for providing additional funding for the residential sampling and cleanups currently underway.

Bell Councilman Nestor Valencia told EGP he and other area residents have criticized DTSC for moving too slowly with soil sample tests and the clean up of properties.

“It goes to show the disparity of the southeast and East Los Angeles communities [compared] to other communities,” he said.

Residents just want the same response they saw in the Valley, Huntington Park Mayor Karina Macias told EGP. They want the same protocols for all communities, she said.

“Nobody should have to live under circumstances like that – where their health is impacted,” said Macias. “No offense to Porter Ranch but it’s unfortunate for us to not see such a response when we are talking about a toxic substance.”
Instead of hope, Mejia says the response by elected officials to the Porter Ranch disaster reaffirms what she already knew.

“They don’t care so much about our inner-city people. They don’t care about the industrial neighborhoods or the workers the way they do about wealthier communities.”

—-

Twitter @nancyreporting

nmartinez@egpnews.com

 

A version of this article was published by Eastern Group Publications in the January 14, 2016 print editions.

[Update 1:30p.m:] Added additional comments by residents.

Exide, Porter Ranch: Un Doble Estándar

January 14, 2016 by · 1 Comment 

Las quejas de dolores de cabeza, sangrado por la nariz y asma por parte de residentes de Porter Ranch suenan muy familiares para activistas del Este de Los Ángeles quienes han estado luchando por años contra su propio peligro a gran escala de salud ambiental local.

Igualmente lo son las demandas de los funcionarios del gobierno para cerrar de inmediato las instalaciones de almacenamiento de gas natural de Southern California Gas Co. cerca de Porter Ranch que los residentes culpan por su crisis de salud.

Read this article in English: Exide, Porter Ranch; A Double Standard

Sin embargo, la respuesta por parte de los reguladores estatales y funcionarios electos –incluyendo al gobernador Jerry Brown–ha sido sorprendentemente diferente, puesto que por años fallaron en tomar el mismo tipo de medidas audaces para detener Exide Technologies con sede en Vernon por poner en riesgo las vidas de miles de personas de bajos ingresos del este y sureste de Los Ángeles, en su mayoría latinos.

El dinero, la etnia y el poder político son la raíz de la desigualdad, afirman activistas.

Armados con abogados de alto poder, los residentes en Porter Ranch están exigiendo el cierre de las instalaciones de SoCal Gas en Aliso Canyon, donde una fuga fue descubierta el 23 de octubre, lo que llevó a cientos de quejas de los residentes acerca de los efectos negativos para la salud y demandas para que la empresa de servicios públicos pague la reubicación de los residentes en la zona afectada. En menos de tres meses más de 2.000 residentes han sido reubicados, las escuelas han sido cerradas, los estudiantes fueron trasladados y se espera que la empresa pague por el alojamiento de animales domésticos y de policía adicional.

Nadie niega la gravedad del problema en Porter Ranch, pero los residentes y activistas del este y sureste no pueden evitar la sensación de que hay un doble estándar en juego, especialmente cuando se trata del gobernador Brown, quien la semana pasada declaró Estado de Emergencia en Porter Ranch después de recorrer las instalaciones de Aliso Canyon y reunirse con los residentes afectados.

Su declaración permite al Estado movilizar personal del estado, equipo y servicios necesarios, así como desistir de cualquier ley o regulación en marcha para lidiar con la cuestión ambiental. También le da poder al gobernador para asignar fondos de emergencia para reparar la fuga, que se espera tome de tres a cuatro meses para ser reparada.

La residente de Boyle Heights Doelorez Mejía se alegró de ver la rápida llamada a la acción por el gobernador y los funcionarios estatales en Porter Ranch, pero no podía dejar de sentir la injusticia de la situación.

“Estoy decepcionada que nuestra comunidad no fue considerada como digna de tal protección rápida”, le dijo a EGP. “Pero, lamentablemente, no me sorprende”.

Residentes afectados por Exide protestaron durante una ceremonia en noviembre donde asistió el gobernador Jerry Brown, quien no se ha pronunciado al respecto. (EGP foto por Fred Zermeno)

Residentes afectados por Exide protestaron durante una ceremonia en noviembre donde asistió el gobernador Jerry Brown, quien no se ha pronunciado al respecto. (EYCEJ)

Se refería a los años que fueron ignoradas las súplicas de los residentes que viven cerca de la planta de reciclaje de baterías de ácido y plomo Exide.

En 2013, los funcionarios de la calidad del aire informaron que Exide había violado las emisiones de químicos tóxicos que ponen a más de 110.000 residentes en la zona del este y sureste en un mayor riesgo de cáncer. El plomo y el arsénico se habían encontrado en el suelo en las casas cercanas y en al menos un parque.

No era la primera vez que Exide había violado las normas estatales sobre emisiones tóxicas, ni sería la última.

Pero a diferencia de Porter Ranch, las demandas contra Exide no fueron escuchadas. Los residentes no fueron reubicados, las clases no fueron canceladas y las instalaciones no fueron cerradas pese a que Exide operó durante décadas en un permiso temporal emitido por el Departamento de Control de Sustancias Tóxicas de California (DTSC).

La protesta pública durante decenas de reuniones de la comunidad, audiencias y marchas de protesta sobre su exposición a niveles tóxicos de arsénico y plomo–conocidos por causar daño neurológico permanente a los niños y mujeres embarazadas–no lograron forzar el cierre de la instalación. De hecho, tomó que la Oficina del Fiscal de Estados Unidos interviniera y amenazara a Exide de cargos penales federales, para acordar un cierre permanente negociado en abril de 2015.

Exámenes y pruebas de las emisiones de aire en la zona ahora muestran que al menos dos millones de personas podrían estar en un riesgo elevado de cáncer y otros problemas de salud debido a los años de exposición al plomo de la planta de Exide. Reguladores estatales de tóxicos ahora creen que hasta 10.000 propiedades necesitan ser examinadas y descontaminadas. Hasta ahora, sólo se han limpiado 184 propiedades contaminadas.

A Exide se le permitió operar al lado de casas que habían estado en la zona durante generaciones. En Porter Ranch, urbanistas habían permitido a los desarrolladores construir en un terreno baldío al lado del centro de Aliso Canyon, que había estado allí durante décadas.

La residente de Boyle Heights Teresa Marquez reconoce que los riesgos ambientales tanto en Porter Ranch y Exide representan una amenaza para la salud pública, pero dice que ella sabía que  la respuesta sería drásticamente diferente en Porter Ranch.

“La diferencia clave es el dinero y lo blanco”, dijo con franqueza. “Y nosotros sólo somos latinos pobres”.

Porter Ranch es un vecindario más afluente de Los Ángeles situado en el borde del noroeste del Valle de San Fernando. Sus habitantes son en su mayoría blancos, con un ingreso familiar medio de más de $120.000. En contraste, los impactos de contaminación de Exide a las comunidades altamente densas de Bell, Boyle Heights, Commerce, el área no incorporada del Este de Los Ángeles, Huntington Park y Vernon; todos hogares de clase trabajadora en su mayoría latinos.

“No puedo evitar preguntarme por qué el horrible desastre en Porter Ranch ha captado tanto la atención, mientras que el igualmente terrible desastre en Exide ha capturado tan poco”, la supervisora Presidente de la Junta del Condado de Los Ángeles Hilda L. Solís le dijo a EGP vía email.

Mark López, director ejecutivo de East Yard Communities para la Justicia Ambiental, le dijo a EGP que su ira no es contra Porter Ranch o sus residentes, pero con el estado y el gobernador “quienes pueden dar respuestas, pero optan por no hacerlo”.

“La fuga de gas debería haber sido cerrada el mes pasado, dicho esto, Exide debería haber sido cerrado hace décadas”.

A finales del año pasado  Brown asistió a una apertura de un hotel en Bell Gardens, cerca de Exide. López y otros residentes del este también estaban allí, afuera airadamente protestando el silencio del gobernador ante el problema de Exide. Llevaron pancartas y una efigie de Brown de papel maché de 10 pies. A diferencia de Porter Ranch, el gobernador aún tiene que visitar a las comunidades afectadas por Exide o públicamente comentar sobre la larga crisis ambiental que juega Exide, a pesar de que ahora se llama uno de los mayores desastres de salud pública en la historia del estado.

Gladys Limón, abogada de Communities for a Better Environment (Comunidades para un Mejor Ambiente) le dijo a EGP que la respuestas de las agencias estatales y de gobernador a la catástrofe de Porter Ranch revelan una disparidad racial marcada en los esfuerzos para proteger a las comunidades de los riesgos de salud y seguridad causadas por las operaciones industriales.

“El Estado descuidó a miles de familias del sureste y este de Los Ángeles durante décadas, y hasta hoy el gobernador no ha reconocido personalmente la emergencia sanitaria de Exide ni se ha reunirdo con los residentes”, dijo.

La ex supervisora del Condado Gloria Molina le dijo a EGP que ella continuamente llamó a la oficina del gobernador para conseguir que se tomen medidas, pero nunca recibió una contestación.

“El gobernador esta totalmente desinteresado”, dijo, y agregó que puede tener algo que ver con el bajo número de votantes registrados en la zona.

“Él se enorgullece de ser el gobernador del medio ambiente, pero parece más interesado en la protección de los árboles que en la gente”, dijo Molina.

Algunos activistas ambientales dicen que creen que la respuesta del gobernador a la fuga de gas en Aliso Canyon puede estar más en línea con su compromiso de ser el líder mundial en la reducción de emisiones de efecto invernadero, que sobre unos problemas de salud.

Márquez dijo que se sorprendió al escuchar que Brown se había reunido con residentes de Porter Ranch.

“Él no ha hablado con nosotros”, dijo. “No sé por qué no ha tomado medidas similares … simplemente no se preocupa por nuestra comunidad”.

EGP contactó al gobernador para obtener su respuesta a las preocupaciones de los residentes del este a las cuales él ha sido indiferente, y concordando con la crítica de la comunidad y funcionarios electos, Brown volvió a fallar para comentar personalmente sobre la situación. En su lugar, transfirió nuestra solicitud al Departamento de Control de Sustancias Tóxicas, la agencia reguladora estatal a cargo de la limpieza, que durante años ha sido fuertemente criticada por su manejo de Exide.

“La protección de la comunidad en torno a la instalación de Exide Technologies en Vernon es una alta prioridad para la Administración”, se lee en la respuesta del portavoz del DTSC Sandy Nax, que acredita al gobernador de proporcionar fondos adicionales para las pruebas residenciales y limpiezas actualmente en curso.

El concejal de Bell Nestor Valencia le dijo a EGP que él y otros residentes de la zona han criticado a DTSC por moverse demasiado lento con las pruebas de muestra de suelo y la limpieza de propiedades.

“Se va a mostrar la disparidad del sureste y las comunidades del Este de Los Ángeles [en comparación] a otras comunidades”, dijo.

Los residentes solo quieren la misma respuesta que vieron en el Valle, la alcaldesa de Huntington Park Karina Macias le dijo a EGP. Quieren los mismos protocolos para todas las comunidades, dijo.

“Nadie debería tener que vivir en circunstancias como esas–donde se ve afectada su salud”, agregó Macías. “Sin ofender a Porter Ranch, pero lo lamentable es que nosotros no vemos tal respuesta cuando estamos hablando de una sustancia tóxica”.

En lugar de esperanza, Mejía dice que la respuesta de los funcionarios electos ante el desastre de Porter Ranch reafirma lo que ya sabían.

“Ellos no se preocupan mucho por nuestro pueblo dentro de la ciudad. Ellos no se preocupan por los barrios industriales o los trabajadores de la manera que lo hacen con las comunidades más ricas”.

—-

Twitter @nancyreporting

nmartinez@egpnews.com

The Stories That Made Headlines In 2015

December 31, 2015 by · Leave a Comment 

The count down has started: Out with the old and in with the new!
Well, not quite.
2015 may be coming to a close but some of the stories that repeatedly made our headlines this year are sure to be back in 2016; some with a vengeance.
From the Exide toxic pollution scandal to the threat of El Nino, to the growing number of homeless, rising rents and crime numbers, the battle to close the 710 to 210 transportation gap and demands for higher wages, EGP predicts these issues will continue to grab headlines in 2016.
Not because movement on the stories are at a standstill, but because they continue to evolve.
Economists say more people are working and the economy has recovered, but there’s also an increasing amount of data showing many more people are now homeless and fewer people are able to buy a home or afford skyrocketing rents.

Exide Contamination Scandal
No story on our pages received more coverage than the battle by local residents and environmental justice activists to shut down Vernon-based Exide Technologies.
After years of hazardous waste violations, residents in East and Southeast communities in March rejoiced at the news that Exide – a lead-acid, battery recycler – would finally be closed permanently. In order to avoid federal criminal prosecution, the company agreed to close down permanently and pay millions of dollars in fines and for the cleanup of facility and any properties in surrounding areas contaminated by its emissions.
What’s Next: Testing and cleanup of properties in the surrounding communities of Boyle Heights, East Los Angeles, Bell, Huntington Park, Maywood and Commerce is still underway by the Department of Toxic Substances Control. Up to 10,000 homes may require decontamination. A community advisory committee is “overseeing” the process, including the removal and transportation of the tainted soil to another location.

 A crew from the Department of Toxic Substances Control collect samples of dirt for testing. (EGP photo archives)

A crew from the Department of Toxic Substances Control collect samples of dirt for testing. (EGP photo archives)

Crime In Northeast Los Angeles
Also making multiple headlines in 2015 was the gang war in Northeast Los Angeles that resulted in numerous shootings and widespread fear in the community.
Los Angeles police from the Northeast Division attended a community meeting earlier in the year where they told residents that the LAPD had increased patrols and stepped up enforcement of gang injunctions to get control of the street violence.
The gang violence did quiet down, but other violent crimes, including the murder of two young girls whose bodies were found in Debs Park, multiple stabbing attacks and gentrifying Figueroa Street took its place in the headlines. Hit-and-run deaths also increased, heating up the war over bike lanes, which advocates claim are the best way to slow down traffic and increase pedestrian safety. Opponents dispute their claim, saying bike lanes will not stop someone from driving under the influence or taking off when they hit someone. They also say the bike lanes will just create more traffic jams and decrease valuable street parking.
What’s Next: Bicycle activists say they will continue to pressure the local Councilman, Gil Cedillo, and the city of Los Angeles to adopt their “road diet” plan in Highland Park. Cedillo has proposed other strategies, such as adding more traffic lights and signs in the area. The battle will continue.

A vigil is held for a victim of a hit-and-run in Highland Park. (EGP photo archives)

A vigil is held for a victim of a hit-and-run in Highland Park. (EGP photo archives)

The Homeless Crisis
Throughout 2015, the city and county of Los Angeles have continued to report growing numbers of homeless and to talk about the need to spend millions of dollars to increase transitional and permanent housing and mental health services.
Residents in several communities have complained that homelessness is a problem in their neighborhood and have called on local officials to move transients — forcibly is necessary – out of their neighborhood.
While some point to the homeless as the blame for an increase crime, health and unsanitary conditions, blight and a host of other problems, advocates for the homeless fought efforts to criminalize the homeless and pushed for more services to assist them.
More than 25,000 people are homeless within the city of Los Angeles, according to the latest 2015 count by the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority. Countywide, homelessness has risen 12 percent since 2013’s count, from 39,461 to 44,359 people homeless.
In September, Mayor Eric Garcetti and members of the city council declared “a state of emergency on homelessness” and committed $100 million to provide permanent and transitional housing to those in need.
Earlier this month, city officials set aside $12.4 million to help house the homeless and provide more temporary shelter during El Nino storms expected this winter.
The funding, proposed by Garcetti and approved by the City Council, includes $10 million for “rapid re-housing” subsidies for nearly 1,000 transients to help them with rent or move-in costs.
The remaining funds will increase shelter beds this winter by more than 50 percent – to a total of 1,300. These beds will be targeted to those living in the Los Angeles River bed and the Tujunga and Arroyo Seco washes.
At the County level, supervisors last week approved $5 million of Homeless Prevention Initiative funds be set aside for the expansion of programs that help decrease homelessness among youth in Los Angeles County.
The County is now drafting a set of strategies to reduce homelessness through an intensive, inclusive planning process known as the Homeless Initiative, which will include recommendations to establish a Transition Age Youth Resources Center.
Approximately 1.7 million runaways or homeless youth under the age of 18 live in Los Angeles County, according to the National Alliance to End Homelessness. Twenty-five percent of former foster youth reported they had been homeless at least one night within 2.5 to 4 years after leaving the foster care system.
Last week city and county officials jointly announced expansion of the County’s SMART team model — known as MET in the County — which according to Sup. Hilda Solis “effectively diverts mentally ill individuals from the criminal justice system and into treatment programs with the potential of helping many turn their lives around.”
What’s Next: With the threat of El Nino looming larger every day, homeless advocates are scrambling to increase the number of shelter beds available this winter. A temporary shelter opened at All Saints Episcopal Church in Highland Park is one such facility that will likely receive emergency funding despite not meeting the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority’s normal standards. Some cities are considering allowing people living in campers to park overnight at city-run facilities, and other changes.

Los Angeles has experienced an increase in homeless living on the streets. (EGP photo archives)

Los Angeles has experienced an increase in homeless living on the streets. (EGP photo archives)

The Threat of El Niño
Federal, state and local officials have been aggressively preparing for El Niño heavy rains that are expected to hit the Southland this winter. In years past, El Niño weather caused traffic gridlock, neighborhoods to be flooded, toppled power lines and damaged homes with the pounding rain for days without end. Cities across the basin have been assessing infrastructure needs and making repairs to avoid storm damage.
Topping the list of preparations across the region has been the clearing of debris flood basins and storm drains.
Earlier this month the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) released a disaster response plan for severe storm weather.
Commerce and several other cities have set up strategies for communicating with residents and business in the event of an emergency, are encouraging people to sign up for their Alert system notifications.
Bell Gardens is sending residents “tips” for preparing for El Nino.
Montebello and Commerce have each handed out a large number of sandbags to local residents.
What’s Next: Local municipalities will continue monitoring areas prone to flooding, clearing out storm drains and distributing sandbags to businesses and residents. The storms are expected to hit in late winter. Los Angeles County has set up safety tips available at www.lacounty.gov/elnino

The SR-710 Debate
For more than six decades, the battle over how to close the 4.5 mile gap between the terminus of SR-710 Long Beach freeway in Alhambra and the northbound Foothill 210 Freeway in Pasadena has divided communities all along the route, from Commerce to La Canada.
The heavily traveled 710 Freeway is a transportation nightmare for commuters and commercial vehicles in the area, and residents living in adjacent communities.
Caltrans and Metro released a draft environmental impact report/environmental impact statement (DEIR/EIS) in March on five possible alternatives for closing the gap, they include: a “no build” option; a traffic management system; a rapid bus line, a light rail and a 6-mile freeway tunnel.
Several groups have called for scrapping the report, after months of meeting and public comment, and starting over. Others have called the long delay a racist, environmental injustice, forcing low-income, mostly Latinos to bare  the brunt of high levels of pollution while allowing more affluent communities to avoid carrying their share of the burden.
What’s Next: Information from comments received during public hearings throughout the year will be used to prepare the final environmental document along with the agencies’ preferred alternative. We can expect to see ongoing debate and political maneuvering from all sides of the issue.

 An  SR710 North public hearing gets heated. (EGP photo archives)

An SR710 North public hearing gets heated. (EGP photo archives)

Activists Protest Governor’s Silence on Exide at Hotel Opening

November 19, 2015 by · Leave a Comment 

An appearance by Gov. Jerry Brown Wednesday at the opening of a new Bell Gardens hotel drew loud protests from activists angry that he has yet to speak out on the Exide Technologies pollution scandal.

Carrying a 10-foot tall paper maché effigy of the governor, dozens of protesters rallied outside the Bicycle Casino where Brown was headlining the grand opening celebration for the casino’s new hotel: his second appearance on behalf of the project.

“Governor Brown comes to Bell Gardens to acknowledge the expansion of the Bicycle Casino but has not acknowledged the contamination of Exide Technologies,” said Mark Lopez, director of East Yard Communities for Environmental Justice.

Dozens of protesters rallied outside the Bicycle Casino to confront Gov. Jerry Brown who has yet to speak out on the ExideTechnologies pollution scandal. (East Yard Communities for Environmental Justice)

Dozens of protesters rallied outside the Bicycle Casino to confront Gov. Jerry Brown who has yet to speak out on the ExideTechnologies pollution scandal. (East Yard Communities for Environmental Justice)

Lopez was referring to the now shuttered Vernon plant’s illegal emissions of arsenic and lead and other toxic chemicals that have put more than 100,000 east and southeast area residents at a higher risk of cancer and other illnesses.

State toxic control regulators allowed Exide to operate for decades on an interim permit, despite dozens of handling of hazardous waste and emissions violations.

“We are calling on Gov. Brown to meet with community leaders and to commit the necessary funds to clean up the contamination the state allowed Exide to create,” Lopez said.

The governor did not acknowledge the protesters, according to organizers.

Condado Aprueba Dos Millones Para la Limpieza de Propiedades Cercanas a Exide

October 29, 2015 by · Leave a Comment 

La Junta de Supervisores aprobó el martes una solicitud de financiamiento de $2 millones por la Supervisora Hilda Solís para ayudar a acelerar la limpieza del suelo contaminado alrededor de la planta de reciclaje de baterías actualmente cerrada Exide en Vernon, diciendo: “el estado continúa arrastrando los pies”.

Exide acordó en marzo cerrar su planta de reciclaje de baterías de plomo-ácido y que pagaría $50 millones para la limpieza del sitio y los barrios circundantes.

De esa cantidad, $26 millones están destinados a ser reservados para uso de limpieza residencial. A partir de agosto, Exide, que se declaró en bancarrota en 2013, había pagado $9 millones en un fideicomiso y otros $5 millones se deberán pagar en marzo del 2020, de acuerdo con funcionarios estatales.

Pero el Departamento de Control de Sustancias Tóxicas no ha hecho lo suficiente para proteger la salud de los residentes, aseveró Solís.

“Sólo 44 casas han sido limpiadas, y me refiero, por dentro y por fuera”, enfatizó.

La semana pasada, un portavoz de DTSC dijo que el estado ha limpiado los patios de 170 hogares alrededor de la planta y limpiaron el “interior de cada hogar donde el dueño de la propiedad nos ha concedido acceso”.

Solís dijo que hasta 1.000 hogares pueden encontrarse afectados de los tóxicos, lo suficiente para calificar como residuos peligrosos, y el Estado ha estimado que de 5.000 a 10.000 hogares pueden en última instancia, requerir algo de limpieza. El total podría correr en exceso de $400 millones, dijo Solís el martes.

La planta, que produce una gran cantidad de desechos peligrosos, como el plomo, el arsénico y el benceno, operó por 33 años sin un permiso permanente. Los esfuerzos para actualizar los procedimientos de los equipos y de seguridad fracasaron repetidamente para cumplir las normas ambientales.

Aunque las emisiones de plantas gaseosas ya no son un problema, la contaminación de plomo en el suelo, que puede causar retrasos en el desarrollo y deficiencia cognitiva, sigue siendo una preocupación.

Un portavoz de la salud pública también citó el aumento del riesgo de cáncer relacionado a otros productos químicos, una vez emitidos por la planta.

“Los productos químicos de Exide han elevado el riesgo de cáncer de decenas de miles de personas en todo el rededor de la planta Exide”, dijo el Dr. Cyrus Rangan, director del Programa de Epidemiología Tóxica del dept. de salud del condado. “A pesar del cierre de la instalación, esta comunidad tiene que vivir con un mayor riesgo de cáncer… por el resto de sus vidas”.

Los barrios de Boyle Heights y Maywood tienen los niveles más altos de contaminación residencial, pero el área de exposición se extiende para abarcar aproximadamente a 2 millones de personas, según Angelo Bellomo, director del condado de la División de Salud Ambiental.

Los $2 millones de dólares del condado se destinarán para facilitar la limpieza, accesar rápidamente otras propiedades potencialmente contaminadas y comenzar una amplia campaña de salud.

Funcionarios de DTSC se comprometieron a reunirse con un grupo asesor de la comunidad el Miércoles y después comenzarán una nueva ronda de limpieza y pruebas, centrándose primero en las propiedades con la mayor exposición potencial al plomo, según un portavoz de la agencia estatal.

En un comunicado, Solís dijo que el DTSC tiene un “ claro e intratable conflicto de intereses” en la gestión de la limpieza porque la agencia es responsable de su “fracaso para regular adecuadamente la instalación de Exide”.

Los abogados del condado están evaluando sus opciones legales para forzar al estado o a Exide actuar y planean reunirse con la junta a puerta cerrada durante la próxima semana o dos para hablar de esas alternativas.

El supervisor Michael Antonovich estaba entre los que expresó su preocupación acerca de que el condado asuma responsabilidad si interviene para limpiar.

“El condado no es el culpable”, dijo la abogada interina del Condado María Wickham, asegurando a la junta que no habría ningún cambio de responsabilidad.

Sin embargo, si los trabajadores del condado intervinieron para manejar la limpieza de forma directa y fueron negligentes en esos esfuerzos, existe la preocupación de que podrían ser culpados. Los esfuerzos de limpieza directos no están previstos actualmente.

El supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas dijo que la intervención federal no estaba fuera de la pregunta.

La votación de la junta directiva a favor de la financiación fue unánime.

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