New Fee on Car Batteries Could Expand Exide Cleanup

October 6, 2016 by · Leave a Comment 

When Larry Mendoza learned Gov. Jerry Brown had signed legislation imposing a fee on car batteries to fund the cleanup of lead contaminated sites like those near the Exide plant in Vernon, he felt like Sacramento is finally listening.

“The community has been asking for [more funding] for such a long time, it finally feels like the sate is being proactive,” the Commerce resident told EGP.

Beginning April 1, consumers and manufacturers will be required to each pay a $1 fee on every lead-acid car battery sold in California.

“When theses technologies reach their end life, we often learn, the hard way, that these products, when not disposed of properly, come at a cost to their environment and to our health,” wrote Gov. Brown in a letter to the State Assembly.

Retailers currently charge a refundable state-mandated fee intended to encourage customers to properly recycle unused and depleted batteries. Retailers are allowed to keep money not returned to consumers.

Southeast legislators join members of the community to celebrate the signing of AB2153 in Commerce last week. (EGP photo by Nancy Martinez)

Southeast legislators join members of the community to celebrate the signing of AB2153 in Commerce last week. (EGP photo by Nancy Martinez)

The new $1 battery fee is expected to generate approximately $30 million a year to cover costs associated with the cleanup of sites contaminated by lead-acid batteries.

“It’s one thing to be able to come up with legislation, it’s another to come up with a funding source,” Sen. Ricardo Lara acknowledged during a press conference in Commerce last week celebrating the bill’s signing.

Earlier this year, the governor approved a $176.6 million loan to help speed up the testing and cleanup of properties found to have lead, arsenic and other toxic chemicals on site due to Exide’s violations of pollution and toxic waste standards.

California’s Department of Toxic Substances Control, the regulatory agency charged with overseeing the cleanup, plans to use the funds to test approximately 10,000 properties in Bell, Boyle Heights, Commerce, East Los Angeles, Huntington Park, Maywood and Vernon and to clean an estimated 2,500 homes in the impacted area.

Funds collected from the battery fee can be used to pay back that loan or added to the Exide cleanup budget.

Over the years, state regulators have repeatedly cited a lack of money for the delays and limitations in dealing with the health hazard. Area residents, elected officials and environmental activists are now hopeful that the new revenue stream will allow the cleanup to be expanded beyond the current target zone.

The bill’s principal author, Assemblywoman Cristina Garcia, lives in Bell Gardens, a city just outside the area currently being investigated. She has repeatedly asked the state to consider expanding the study area because she and others believe the contamination is not limited to the 1.7 miles surrounding the Exide plant.

“With a guaranteed source of revenue we can now entertain the idea of expanding that radius,” she told EGP.

Mark Lopez, executive director of East Yards for Environmental Justice, told EGP the new fee is another step in the long walk for justice.

“At this point, we are looking at the inter-generational impacts to health, academics, social, violence and crime,” he said. “We need a [long-term health] study to be able to fully remediate the effects of the contamination.”

In a statement to EGP, DTSC stated the agency will use the funds to investigation and cleanup areas that are “reasonably suspected to have been contaminated by the operation of a lead-acid battery recycling facility.”

Garcia told EGP she wants those responsible for the contamination to be held criminally accountable.

“We still need an investigation into what allowed this to happen,” agrees Lopez.

Activists have long questioned why state regulators allowed Exide to operate on a temporary permit and with impunity for decades, putting public health at risk. They have also called for criminally prosecuting Exide officials and anyone else who was complicit in the environmental crime.

Sen. Tony Mendoza said it’s frustrating that the Exide crisis has not received the same federal and national attention as other environmental disasters, such as the lead contamination of the water supply in Flint Michigan.

The Exide plant in Vernon is one of 14 now closed lead battery-recycling sites in the state. Cleanup of the site is expected to be the largest and most expensive environmental disaster in state history. City of Industry-based Quemetco is the only lead battery recycler still operating in California. Testing is currently underway to determine if the surrounding communities were contaminated by the plant’s toxic emissions, which have also exceeded state health standards.

“Decades of improper lead-acid battery recycling have left these communities to face enormous environmental challenges,” noted Brown in his signing statement.

As of last month, 2,900 properties in the 1.7-mile target zone have been tested for lead and 236 have been cleaned.

Larry Mendoza says he hopes legislators understand how critical it is to fund and expedite the process, adding that seeing legislators working with the community and addressing some of their concerns has him feeling more optimistic.

“Sadly,” he added, “what unites us is the pollution of lead.”

Nueva Tarifa de Baterías Podrá Extender Limpieza de Exide

October 6, 2016 by · Leave a Comment 

Larry Mendoza al fin cree que Sacramento está prestando atención, después de enterarse que el gobernador de California, Jerry Brown, firmó una legislación a favor de imponer una cuota en las baterías de carro para financiar la limpieza de la contaminación de plomo causada por la planta, Exide.

“La comunidad ha estado pidiendo [más financiación] por bastante tiempo y al fin se siente que el estado está siendo proactivo”, dijo Mendoza, residente de Commerce, a EGP.

Empezando el 1 de abril, los consumidores y los fabricantes serán requeridos a pagar $1 por cada batería para carros, con ácido de plomo, vendidas en California.

“Cuando éste tipo de tecnología llega al final de su vida, hemos aprendido que los productos no son desechados correctamente, lo cual tiene un costo en el medio ambiente y en nuestra salud”, escribió el gobernador Brown en una carta a la Asamblea Estatal.

Los distribuidores actualmente cobran una tarifa reembolsable, mandada por el estado, con el propósito de motivar a los clientes a que reciclen las baterías correctamente. Los distribuidores son permitidos a quedarse con el dinero que no se les regrese a los clientes.

Se espera que la nueva tarifa de $1 genere aproximadamente $30 millones al año para cubrir los costos asociados con la limpieza de las baterías de acido.

“Es una cosa diferente el crear una legislación y otra el crear una fuente de financiamientos”, declaró el senador Ricardo Lara durante una conferencia de prensa en Commerce la semana pasada, la cual celebraba la aprobación de la legislación.

Meses atrás, el gobernador aprobó un préstamo de $176.6 millones para ayudar a avanzar los análisis y la limpieza de las propiedades contaminadas con el plomo y otros químicos tóxicos a causa de las violaciones emitidas por la planta de Exide.

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Oficiales electos celebran la aprobación de AB2153, junto con la comunidad, en Commerce la semana pasada. Foto de EGP por Nancy Martínez

El Departamento de Control de Substancias Toxicas de California junto con la agencia reguladora, encargada de limpiar, planean en usar los fondos para analizar aproximadamente 10,000 propiedades en Bell, Boyle Heights, el Este de Los Ángeles, Huntington Park, Maywood y Vernon. Ellos planean limpiar unas estimadas 2,500 viviendas en el área impactada.

Los fondos que se colecten por medio de la tarifa sobre las baterías podrán ser usados para pagar el préstamo o agregarlo al presupuesto de la limpieza de Exide.

Durante los años, reguladores estatales han repetidamente citado una falta de dinero por las demoras y limitaciones en lidiar con ese riesgo para la salud. Los residentes del área junto con los oficiales y activistas del medio ambiente ahora tienen esperanzas de que el nuevo flujo de financiamiento les permita expandir la limpieza más aya de la zona actual.

La autora principal de la legislación, la asambleísta Cristina García, vive en Bell Gardens, una ciudad cerca de la zona que está siendo investigada. Ella le ha pedido repetidamente al estado en que considere expandir el área de análisis ya que cree que la contaminación no está limitada a las 1.7 millas que rodean la zona donde estaba la planta.

“Con una fuente de ingresos segura podemos ahora entretener la idea de expandir la cobertura”, le dijo a EGP.

Mark López, director ejecutivo de East Yards for Environmental Justice, le dijo a EGP que la nueva tarifa es otro paso en una caminata larga hacia la justicia.

“A estas alturas, estamos viendo los impactos entre generaciones en la salud, los estudios, lo social, la violencia y el crimen”, dijo él. “Necesitamos un estudio sobre los [efectos de largo plazo a la salud] para remediar completamente los efectos de la contaminación”.

En una declaración a EGP, DTSC declaró que la agencia usará los fondos para investigar y limpiar las áreas con “sospechas razonables de haber sido contaminadas por las operaciones de la facilidad de reciclaje de baterías”.

García le dijo a EGP que quiere que los responsables de la contaminación sean penalmente responsables por sus hechos.

“Todavía necesitamos investigar que fue lo que permitió que esto pasara”, acordó López.

Activistas han cuestionado el por qué los reguladores estatales le permitieron a Exide a operar con un permiso temporal y con impunidad por décadas, poniendo en riesgo la salud pública. También han pedido una persecución penal para los oficiales de Exide y para cualquier otro que haya participado en este crimen ambiental.

El senador Tony Mendoza dijo que es frustrante que la crisis de Exide no haya recibido la misma ayuda federal y nacional que otros desastres medioambientales han recibido, tal como fue la contaminación de plomo en el suministro de agua en Flint Michigan.

La planta Exide en Vernon es una de 14 plantas de reciclaje, de baterías con plomo, que han sido cerradas en el estado. La limpieza del área se espera que sea el desastre ambiental más grande y caro en la historia del estado.

La planta Quemetco, basada en la Ciudad de Industry, es la única recicladora de baterías con plomo que permanece operando en California. Las pruebas están en marcha para determinar si las comunidades alrededor también fueron contaminadas por las emisiones toxicas, las cuales sobrepasan los estándares de salud estatales.

“Décadas de reciclaje de baterías con ácido de plomo, inadecuado, han dejado a estas comunidades con problemas ambientales enormes”, declaró Brown al aprobar la legislación.

Desde el mes pasado, 2,900 propiedades, ubicadas dentro de las 1.7 millas de las zonas de cubrimiento, han sido examinadas para ver si tienen plomo. 236 propiedades han sido limpiadas.

Larry Mendoza dijo que espera que los legisladores entiendan lo critico que es financiar y acelerar el proceso, agregando que el ver que los legisladores están trabajando con la comunidad lo tiene optimista.

“Lamentablemente”, agregó, “lo que nos une es la contaminación por el plomo”.

Sups. Seek Study of Exide, Aliso Canyon Health Effects

September 29, 2016 by · Leave a Comment 

The Board of Supervisors called Tuesday for studies of the long-term health effects of the massive Aliso Canyon gas leak and lead contamination from the now-shuttered Exide battery-recycling plant.

Supervisor Michael Antonovich recommended the study related to the natural gas leak that began Oct. 23 at the Southern California Gas Co. storage facility and was shut down 16 weeks later, on Feb. 11.

Supervisor Hilda Solis asked that Antonovich’s motion be expanded to include a similar study for the neighborhoods surrounding the Exide plant in Vernon.

The board’s vote was unanimous in asking staffers to work with the South Coast Air Quality Management District to develop a study.

A SoCalGas spokesman said the utility has agreed to spend up to $400,000 to fund the Aliso Canyon study but is waiting for AQMD officials to propose a plan.

Thousands of residents were displaced from their Porter Ranch homes due to the gas leak. Once the well was sealed and residents returned, some continued to complain of headaches, respiratory and skin irritation.

County health officials reported surface dust in many homes contained “low levels of metal contaminants” consistent with those found in well-drilling fluid. They suggested that the contaminants could be the source of symptoms but said the metals did not pose long-term health risks.

The utility stepped in to clean roughly 1,700 homes of those metals.

Tuesday, some residents told the board they are still suffering and the interim director of the Department of Public Health reminded the supervisors that the “gas leak was unprecedented in the history of this country.”

In the case of the Exide Technologies battery-recycling plant, soils tests in surrounding communities have found significant levels of lead contamination.

State officials have set aside $176.6 million in funding for environmental testing and cleanup work in neighborhoods within a 1.7-mile radius of the closed plant.

The facility permanently closed in March 2015 after years of failing to meet state standards for operating the plant.

After the board meeting, Solis hailed Gov. Jerry Brown’s signing of Assembly Bill 2153, which charges a fee on lead-acid car batteries to help fund clean up contaminated areas.

“We celebrate a victory for communities surrounding the Exide and Quemetco facilities,” Solis said. “AB 2153 will provide much needed clean-up of lead-contaminated soil from thousands of homes surrounding these facilities.”

 

From Lead to Pipelines, Students Hone Research Skills

September 15, 2016 by · Leave a Comment 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lead Found at LAUSD Schools

August 25, 2016 by · Leave a Comment 

After learning lead had been found at Lorena Street Elementary where her two grandchildren attend school, Rosalia Valle wanted reassurance that they would be safe and that the cleanup would begin immediately.

“I’m really worried,” the Boyle Heights resident said in Spanish. “All I can do now is tell them to stay off the dirt.”

Last week the Department of Toxic Substances Control reviewed the results of recent soil samples conducted at Lorena Street Elementary in Boyle Heights and Rowan Elementary School in East Los Angeles and determined that levels of lead at both schools were higher than the 80 parts per million the state considers safe.

DTSC recommended that the Los Angeles Unified School District temporarily fence off the areas where lead was found.

Cleanup at both schools will begin as soon as this weekend for contaminated tree wells and could continue through the end of Thanksgiving break for the grassy areas, according to LAUSD officials.

Carlos Torres, deputy director of LAUSD’s Office of Environmental Health and Safety, told EGP the school district plans to go beyond just covering the bare dirt and tree wells as recommended, and will instead remove and replace all the contaminated soil.

“We don’t want to worry about this in the future,” he said. “We want to make sure the campuses are safe in the long run.”

An area near the entrance of Lorena Street Elementary was fenced off after high levels of lead were found in the soil. (EGP photo by Nancy Martinez)

An area near the entrance of Lorena Street Elementary was fenced off after high levels of lead were found in the soil. (EGP photo by Nancy Martinez)

Norma Servin grew concerned about the danger to her 7-year-old when she noticed the fencing erected near the entrance to Lorena Street Elementary on Friday, and realized it was meant to keep children away from lead-contaminated soil.

“I just found out there’s lead where my daughter has attended school for years, where I dropped her off while I was pregnant,” she said, holding her baby.

Exposure to lead can lead to neurological damages in children and premature births in expectant mothers. Even low levels of lead can result in behavior and learning problem and lower IQs in children, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.

Lorena, Rowan and nine other schools were originally tested by contractors hired by Exide Technologies during the summer of 2015, under orders from DTSC as part of the Exide-related cleanup. The Exide plant recycled hundreds of used lead-acid car batteries daily before it was permanently closed in March 2015, following years of illegal emissions and toxic waste violations.

At that time, levels of lead above the federal threshold of 400ppm were discovered at Eastman Elementary in East L.A., prompting the school district to quickly decontaminate the site.

“We didn’t want to wait around, we just removed the soil,” Torres told EGP this week.

DTSC has since tested an additional 11 schools within the 1.7-mile radius surrounding the Vernon plant, but no further action was required at those schools. However, before DTSC would clear the 11 schools tested by Exide contractors, they decided to re-test all the school sites, including Fishburn Elementary in Maywood, which was later cleared from requiring any soil removal.

Test conducted at Lorena and Rowan showed lead levels high enough to require intervention at those sites.

Assemblymember Miguel Santiago, second from left, met with representatives from LAUSD and the Department of Toxic Substances Control Monday at Lorena Street Elementary, where high levels of lead were founds. (Office of Assemblymember Miguel Santiago)

Assemblymember Miguel Santiago, second from left, met with representatives from LAUSD and the Department of Toxic Substances Control Monday at Lorena Street Elementary, where high levels of lead were founds. (Office of Assemblymember Miguel Santiago)

Parents, in the meantime, say they were in dark about potential lead problems at their children’s schools.

According to Torres, LAUSD sent its first notice informing parents of the test results in March. A second notice with the most recent results was sent out last week, and those results have also been posted on LAUSD’s website.

Unlike Eastman, Torres says Rowan and Lorena’s lower lead levels of about 100ppm were just slightly above the state’s hazardous threshold of 80ppm. He also noted that because the school district is conducting the cleanup instead of state regulators, a full CEQA (California Environmental Quality Act) review is not required.

“If we waited for that we would be looking at this being done next summer,” Torres explained.

DTSC’s Assistant Director for Environmental Justice Ana Mascarenas told EGP the levels of lead found at schools were very low overall.

In comparison, “The 50 homes we have cleaned since then had the highest levels of lead, some above 1,000ppm,” she pointed out, explaining the urgency for remediating those sites first.

Assemblymember Miguel Santiago represents the area where the two impacted schools are located. He met with LAUSD and DTSC officials last week and says he received assurances that the campuses are safe at this time.

“Blocking off the areas has made the campuses safer than they were two or three weeks ago,” he told EGP. “But clean up is the long term goal.”

LAUSD estimates removing tainted soil at Eastman cost the school district thousands of dollars. It is not yet clear what the cost to clean Rowan and Lorena will come in at, however DTSC told EGP the agency fully expects the school district will seek reimbursement from the state.

“The most important priority is not who is going to pay or who is responsible, it’s the safety of the community,” said Santiago.

Watching her three children line up for class, Romero looks at her youngest child seated in a stroller and can’t help but again express her frustration and disbelief that the cleanup has not yet gotten underway.

“If lead affects children, you would think they would start the cleanup at schools” right away.

County Needs to Protect Southeast L.A., Not Just Porter Ranch

July 28, 2016 by · Leave a Comment 

Recently, our neighbors in the City of Maywood suffered due to a chemical explosion of toxic magnesium at a local plant. This is not the first incident of chemical exposure to afflict the Southeast region. Residents are still recovering, legally, physically, financially, and emotionally, from lead contamination that spewed from a nearby Exide battery plant in Vernon.

These occurrences have had a tremendous effect on the residents’ health and well-being, and the lack of aid and assistance the community has received in the aftermath increasingly disheartening. More specifically, Maywood has received little of the necessary relief provided by Los Angeles County and its Department of Health (DPH). The minimal support that the County has supplied has taken the form of an inadequate evacuation decree (a radius of only one square block) and the provision of cleaning services to homes on only one side of the affected street. The County has ignored the fact that the explosion subjects the entire neighborhood to devastating consequences, and its disregard has left the mostly Latino, working class community in distress, as it struggles to find the means and support required for recovery. This neglect does not, and will not, go unnoticed.

In stark contrast, the County has paid a disproportionate amount of time and money to other communities affected by recent environmental crises. For example, when a gas leak occurred in the suburban and more affluent Porter Ranch area, action was quickly taken. Press conferences and hearings were held, studies were commissioned, and there was a call for an evacuation with a radius of five miles, despite the leak having been deemed non-hazardous. I do not claim that the DPH’s response to this disaster was excessive or superfluous. Instead, I argue that Maywood, and other Southeastern LA cities affected by their own recent environmental crises, must receive the same humane treatment.

The greater question looms: why do communities like Porter Ranch receive much greater aid and attention in times of crisis than industrial communities? Unfortunately, Latino communities such as Maywood have long faced social injustices, and environmental inequities do not escape the extensive list of discriminations.

It is time we take action. Southeast LA cities must be protected, to the same extent as Porter Ranch, in case of future catastrophes. I request that the County and Department of Public Health establish a standardized and impartial system that details the proper response to such environmental calamities. Protocols must be instituted, so that when danger does strike, each and every city in Los Angeles County, despite income or racial status, will be defended by the justice of the law. This is not only a legal duty, but also a moral duty. We must defend the notion that each and every life, regardless of their residential zip code, matters. At a time when our country seems to be at its most unstable, with acts of hatred and wickedness plaguing the nation, we must come together as a united front, bound by our humanity, to tackle this injustice so that we may see a better future for not only ourselves, but for future generations.

Pastor William D. Smart currently serves as the CEO of the Greater Los Angeles Southern Christian Leadership Conference.

Locals Train for Jobs In Exide Cleanup

July 28, 2016 by · 1 Comment 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

win-win situation.

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

State Shuts Down Battery Recycling Plant

July 21, 2016 by · Leave a Comment 

State regulators ordered a partial shut-down of an Industry lead-battery-recycling plant, saying operators failed to install a leak-detection system in a hazardous-waste containment building, health officials said Friday.

Quemetco was ordered to take the containment building out of service and submit a plan to the state Department of Toxic Substances Control for correcting the violation and a schedule for completing the work.

“The leak-detection system is a layer of sand on a thick plastic material located between the concrete floor and concrete foundation,” according to DTSC documents released this week.

“Quemetco’s violation stems from the lack of a way to monitor whether leaks are occurring through the floor and into the layer of sand. Tests performed last week during a scheduled
inspection determined the system did not comply with regulatory requirements.”

Quemetco officials could not be reached for immediate comment.

Angelo Bellomo, deputy director for health protection at the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health, said the agency is working to test properties near the plant at 720 S. Seventh Ave.

“We are currently analyzing soil and water samples immediately beyond the facility’s perimeter to assess potential contamination from the plant,” Bellomo said. “We will work closely with DTSC and our partner agencies to determine next steps and to ensure this site receives the urgent action needed to protect health.”

County health officials have established a community-information hotline for residents near the plant, at (213) 738-3232.

Exide Complaints Go On Record

July 14, 2016 by · Leave a Comment 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Public Input Being Sought for Exide EIR

July 7, 2016 by · Leave a Comment 

The public’s final chance to weigh in on the scope of an Environmental Impact Report (EIR) being prepared for the massive cleanup of lead and other toxic chemicals from the Exide battery recycling plan in Vernon will come next week during a meeting in Boyle Heights.

People wanting to comment on what the EIR process should include, can do so July 11 at Resurrection Church from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m.

The Department of Toxic Substances Control – the lead agency handling the decontamination process — has already held two scoping meetings on the topic, one in Huntington Park, the other in Commerce. Attendance was light at both meetings.

The Exide plant, which recycled 25,000 lead-acid batteries a day until it halted operations in March 2013, released toxic emissions that exposed over 110,000 east and Southeast Los Angeles County residents to high levels of cancer-causing lead.

The cleanup of homes found within 1.7 miles of the former battery recycler is not expected to begin until mid 2017. Before any shovels hit the ground, however, DTSC must prepare an environmental impact report that will disclose the potential effects of removing and transporting lead tainted soil and other contaminants away from homes.

Under the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA), DTSC is required to consider and release the cleanup plan and its environmental impact for public review.

The EIR process, which involves public review, meetings and hearings, is expected to be completed in July 2017.

Resurrection Church is located at 3324 E. Opal St. Los Angeles, 90023.

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