Demands to Expand Exide Test Area Grow

May 5, 2016 by · Leave a Comment 

At the first public hearing since the governor signed legislation to appropriate $176.6 million for the testing and cleanup of residential properties surrounding the now shuttered Exide battery recycling plant in Vernon, residents were not jumping for joy or thanking state regulators. Instead, they were tired, frustrated and irked that testing for lead has not been expanded further into east and southeast L.A.

A number of residents testified in support of extending the 1.7-mile cleanup zone to 4.5 miles, getting support from DTSC’s Exide Community Advisory Committee, which voted last Thursday to recommend expanding the testing area and to appoint an independent third party to oversee the cleanup.

It is not clear what practical impact the vote will have, but in a statement to EGP, the Department of Toxic Substances Control explained that the agency had set the 1.7 mile testing boundary based on preliminary analysis of soil data, which found that lead emissions from Exide may have traveled 1.3 to 1.7 miles from the facility.

“DTSC appreciates the input of the committee, which was set up to advise DTSC as we move forward,” the agency’s statement says.

Clara Solis lives just outside the 1.7 testing area: Last week she presented DTSC with a petition signed by area residents demanding the testing area be expanded.

“You really don’t know what you are doing because you haven’t tested those areas,” said the East Los Angeles resident.

Rachel Vermillion, who frequents public hearings for the SR-710 extension project, complained her community is constantly bypassed.

A study released last month by the Department of Public Health found that children who live near the Vernon plant have higher levels of lead in their blood.

According to the study, 3.58 percent of young children who live within a mile of the plant had 4.5 micrograms of lead in their blood; children living 1 to 4.5 miles from the plant had 2.41 to 4.5 micrograms or higher levels of lead. According to the Center for Disease Control even low levels of lead can affect IQ and academic achievement. The agency believes there are no safe blood lead level for children.

DTSC Director Barbara Lee, center, discusses blood lead levels during a meeting April 28 in Commerce.  (EGP photo by Nancy Martinez)

DTSC Director Barbara Lee, center, discusses blood lead levels during a meeting April 28 in Commerce. (EGP photo by Nancy Martinez)

Of the 10,000 or so properties in that preliminary investigation area, 213 properties have already been cleaned. State funds will be used to test all 10,000 properties and to clean the 2,500 homes with the highest levels of lead.

Jim Wells, technical advisor to DTSC’s Exide Community Advisory Group, previously stated he believes the contamination goes beyond the 1.7 miles boundary. That would mean millions of people at risk and tens of thousands of additional properties contaminated.

“…To better understand what the conditions really are,” more “robust” data must be collected, Wells said.

One Bell Gardens High School student wanted to know if schools were informed that the area has one of the highest number of children with lead in their blood.

Boyle Heights resident Joe Gonzalez accused DTSC of “minimizing the amount of blood that’s safe in the body.

“The safe level of lead in the body is zero,” he said.

Huntington Park resident Maria Kennedy is a member of Communities for a Better Environment.

She told the committee she felt DTSC was downplaying the Dept. of Public Health’s blood level report. “Homes should be tested for lead regardless if Exide is responsible,” she said. “We should be thinking about the high levels of lead in children and secure funding” to handle the problem, Kennedy said.

DTSC Director Barbara Lee responded that the state has stepped up to the plate, approving a multi-million dollar funding plan. Lee said she needs to demonstrate those funds are being used properly before attempting to secure more money.

“The state has never put forward that kind of money, it’s going to keep us busy for the next couple of years,” she added.

But Teresa Marquez of Boyle Heights feels money should not be the concern.

“We may not have the money but we need to know” the extent of the problem, she said. “How can you get more money if you can’t prove the need?”

Contamination must surely reach Bell Gardens, said Xugo Lujan with East Yards for Environmental Justice. “It’s not like it reaches Atlantic and drops to the floor,” he said pointing to the map. Jorge Lara, another Bell Gardens student demanded to know if homes outside the 1.7-mile radius would be tested. He never got an answer.

Noel Pimentel of Commerce said the city’s residents who were incorporated into the testing area last summer are still waiting for test results.

Commerce Councilwoman Oralia Rebollo asked Lee why homes with young children and pregnant women are no longer considered first priority given the agency’s previous assertions that they would be a top priority for cleanup even if their soil tested less than 1000 ppm.

“We’re confused and residents are upset,” she complained. “They were told they would be priority one and now they are being told they are priority two.”

Lee did not directly respond but assured that the agency plans to decontaminate 2,500 homes with lead levels of 1,000 ppm or higher.

Dozens of Commerce families signed up to have their blood tested for lead during a ‘Cinco de Mayo’ event at Bristow Park Sunday.   (City of Commerce)

Dozens of Commerce families signed up to have their blood tested for lead during a ‘Cinco de Mayo’ event at Bristow Park Sunday.
(City of Commerce)

According to Lee, DTSC is developing a new system to prioritize properties for cleanup. Lee said DTSC does take the risk of exposure into consideration.

“There’s just too many in one bin,” she pointed out, hedging her remarks.

Not satisfied with Lee’s response, Rebollo pushed the director to explain how the agency plans to address possible contamination at schools.

Schools have not tested as high as residential properties, responded Lee.

Testing results will be available to schools in the coming weeks, and could be made public if the school district approves, according to Su Patel, DTSC site project manager.

“I find it contradictory that you say children are a priority when you don’t have a plan in place for schools,” criticized Rebollo.

Lee reiterated that expanding the testing area from 200 homes to 10,000 properties requires a change in the three-bin prioritization process.

“We need more bins,” she said. “We can’t have 2,000 in first place because we won’t know where to start.”

Mark Lopez, executive director of East Yards and the advisory group’s community chairperson, closed the nearly four-hour long meeting by saying elected officials and state regulators must understand there is still a long way to go.

“There seems to be a growing frustration during meetings that comes from folks taking credit when the cameras show up, when we get the money, but when there is critique, those folks want to act” like everything they are hearing is new.

Exide: From Brownfield to Classroom

April 28, 2016 by · 1 Comment 

East and southeast Los Angeles County area residents could soon be trained to test for environmental damages like those in their own backyard.

The Department of Toxic Substances Control plans in coming months to roll out a job and development training program open to residents living in the areas impacted by lead contamination from the now shuttered Exide battery recycling plant in Vernon.

“This is truly a unique program and a first for DTSC,” says Ana Mascarenas, assistant director for environmental justice and tribal affairs for DTSC. For once, the “local community can benefit directly and be a part of restorative justice,” Mascarenas told EGP.

The $176.6 million Exide cleanup package signed by Gov. Brown last week includes $1.2 million to train local groups and residents in skills required to take part in the testing and cleanup process.

DTSC, the state regulatory agency overseeing the Exide cleanup, is currently consulting with experts in the job-training field to develop its program, and they will solicit input from the community during an Exide Advisory Committee meeting being held today.

Mascarenas told EGP that DTSC plans to model its program after the California Environmental Protection Agency’s, CalEPA, Brownfields Environmental Workforce Development and Job Training program, which has prepared local residents to clean up contaminated properties while at the same time preparing them for careers in environmental remediation.

“We want this program to prepare residents for green jobs that will help to immediately clean up the neighborhood, while providing a long term [positive] impact for the community’s economy,” Mascarenas said.

Assemblyman Miguel Santiago’s 53rd District includes many of the communities polluted by Exide, and he is the author of the bill funding the Exide cleanup and training program. He told EGP that creating jobs in the state’s third poorest district was an important consideration.

“The least the state can do is offer jobs to the community it dumped on for decades,” he said.

“The community is in desperate need of jobs and must be cleaned up,” he said, explaining the dual benefit to communities like Boyle Heights and Vernon.

The idea to include a clause promoting the use of local businesses and to give local residents the skills needed to be part of the decontamination effort is the results of hours spent listening to constituents testify at Exide-related public hearings, explained Santiago.

“When money is expended, I want to make sure it is expended in the impacted district and used to provide local jobs,” he told EGP.

While details for the training program are still in the works, it’s likely those who sign up will have to commit 12 to 16 weeks to the program, which will include lead awareness classes, certifications and exposure to tools used for remediation.

“These certificates will not be exclusive to just Exide,” said Mascarenas, “they can apply these skills to DTSC cleanup sites across the state.”

Steven Gendel of ThermoFisher Scientific shows eastside residents how to use a portable analyzer to test soil samples.  (Department of Toxic Substances Control)

Steven Gendel of ThermoFisher Scientific shows eastside residents how to use a portable analyzer to test soil samples. (Department of Toxic Substances Control)

Completing the training, however, is not a guarantee for employment, emphasized DTSC, although DTSC and state legislators will stress the importance of hiring those trained through the program to the contractors hired to cleanup residential properties, clarified Mascarenas.

Mark Lopez, executive director for East Yards for Environmental Justice, told EGP the community wants reassurance local hiring is not just promoted but required.

East Yards, together with other community activists, have drafted language detailing their ideal local hire and workforce development program, including a demand that at least 50 percent of all jobs created directly or indirectly by the cleanup effort be performed by local hires, with 20 percent specifically set aside for low-income residents.

Training will vary by position. Some groups will simply be trained to do outreach, something DTSC has been doing for months.

Members of East Yards, for example, have already been going door to door in the communities surrounding the Exide plant to get the access agreements needed to test for lead.

“We want to understand the intimate details involved with the clean up so that we can communicate that to the community,” explained Lopez explained.

Lopez told EGP he would like to see students from the YouthBuild Charter Schools in Boyle Heights and East Los Angeles benefit from the program. As a dropout recovery school, students at YouthBuild often suffer from learning disabilities, circumstances surrounding violence and issues that can be correlated to exposure to lead, he pointed out DTSC expects to have cleaned up 250 homes by June, using funds previously obtained from Exide and the state. The agency is waiting on the results of a still to be conducted environmental impact report before it continues with the cleanup of 2,500 additional homes, hopefully beginning sometime next spring.

Over 40 eastside residents have already been trained and certified to operate the XRF devices being used to sample soil on properties near Exide.

DTSC says it wants to have hundreds of local residents trained and ready to start when remediation, which could take at last two years, gets underway. Soil testing will continue in the meantime, Mascarenas said.

The Exide plant was permanently closed March 2015 after operating for decades on a temporary permit, even after repeatedly being found to have exposed more than 100,000 people to dangerous levels of lead, arsenic and other chemicals and collecting dozens of hazardous waste violations.

“In many ways, this will help to remediate the damage done to the community,” acknowledges Lopez.

Exámenes de Sangre Gratuitos en Eventos Comunitarios de Commerce

April 21, 2016 by · Leave a Comment 

La ciudad de Commerce se ha unido al departamento de Salud Pública del condado de Los Ángeles para proveer exámenes gratuitos de sangre para quienes deseen saber si han sido afectados por la planta de reciclaje de baterías Exide de Vernon, la cual ya se encuentra cerrada.

El departamento de salud publica estará ofreciendo las pruebas de detección gratuitas en los eventos comunitarios Kids are Cute Baby show y en la celebración anual del Cinco de Mayo.

Los funcionarios de salud del condado estarán en el Kids are Cute Baby Show el sábado 23 de abril en el parque Rosewood localizado en 5600 Harbor Street, de las 10am a la 3pm y en la celebración anual del Cinco de Mayo de la ciudad el domingo, 1 de mayo en el parque Bristow,1466 S. McDonnell Avenue, desde el mediodía hasta las 3pm.

“Instamos a los residentes preocupados a tomar ventaja de la prueba de la sangre gratis”, dijo el alcalde Iván Altamirano en un comuicado. “Es de vital importancia que demos a nuestros residentes todos los recursos disponibles para garantizar su seguridad. Al tener estos exámenes en eventos de Commerce esperamos que nuestros residentes reciban la ayuda necesaria de una manera fácil y conveniente”.

La ciudad también está trabajando con el Departamento de Control de Sustancias Tóxicas (DTSC) para crear conciencia y educar a los residentes de Commerce en cuanto a los peligros de la contaminación por plomo. Se anima a los residentes de Commerce, sobre todo a quienes viven en los barrios de Bandini y Bristow Park, a que permitan que el DTSC lleve a cabo pruebas de suelo en su propiedad, de forma gratuita.

Para obtener más información acerca de la prueba de muestras y formularios de acuerdo para la limpieza de los suelos contaminados puede llamar al (844) 225-3887 o visitar la página web del DTSC al dtsc.ca.gov/exide.

Gov. Brown Signs Legislation to Fund Exide Clean-Up

April 21, 2016 by · Leave a Comment 

Gov. Jerry Brown signed legislation today providing $176.6 million in funding for environmental testing and cleanup work in neighborhoods surrounding the now-shuttered Exide Technologies battery-recycling plant in Vernon.

“Children should be able to play in yards free from toxics,” Brown said. “With this funding plan, we’re doubling down on efforts to protect the community and hold Exide responsible.”

State officials said the funding would pay for testing of residential properties, schools, day care centers and parks within a 1.7-mile radius of the plant, and fund cleaning of as many as 2,500 properties with the highest lead levels.

There was no immediate word on when the effort would begin or how long it would take. The cleanup effort is subject to an environmental review under the California Environmental Quality Act.

Assembly Majority Whip Miguel Santiago applauded Gov. Brown for signing the Exide Clean-Up Package comprised of Assembly Bill 118 and Senate Bill 93.

“The Exide Technologies facility has been able to pollute my community unabated for more than 33 years, which is entirely inexcusable,” said Santiago, author of AB 118.

“Today’s action is an historic step toward fully resolving this appalling situation; but make no mistake – our work is not done here.”

The Exide plant permanently closed in March 2015. When Exide agreed to close the lead-acid battery recycling plant, it committed to pay $50 million for cleanup of the site and surrounding neighborhoods. Of that amount, $26 million is meant to be set aside for residential cleanup.

A crew from the Department of Toxic Substances Control cleans a home in East Los Angeles Wednesday. (Department of Toxic Substances Control)

A crew from the Department of Toxic Substances Control cleans a home in East Los Angeles Wednesday. (Department of Toxic Substances Control)

As of last August, Exide, which filed for bankruptcy in 2013, had paid $9 million into a trust and another $5 million was due to be paid by March 2020, according to state officials.

Rep. Xavier Becerra, D-Los Angeles, called for a fast start to the state’s cleanup efforts.

“We’ve heard the distressing news recently that children living near the closed Exide plant had elevated blood lead levels so there’s no time to waste,” he said. “… I will continue working closely with state and local partners so that the testing and cleanup of homes moves forward expeditiously
and above all, in partnership with the families impacted by the lead contamination. We shouldn’t lose focus of what’s at stake here – restoring a clean and safe environment for our families.”

Mayor Eric Garcetti released a Spanish-language public service announcement, also featuring actress Angelica Vale, urging residents near the plant to have their property tested, and to undergo blood-lead level testing.

“My office will do everything possible to help the (Department of Toxic Substances Control) expedite the cleanup,” Garcetti said. “Identifying the areas and the people affected by lead contamination is a critical first step.”

The city of Commerce, in conjunction with the County health department, will be conducting free confidential lead blood testing at Rosewood Park from 9a.m. to 3p.m. during the annual Kids Are Cute Baby Show. The park is located at 5600 Harbor St. Commerce 90040. For more information, call (323) 722-4805.

EGP staff writers contributed to this report.

Bill to Fund Exide Cleanup on Its Way to Governor’s Desk

April 14, 2016 by · Leave a Comment 

The state Assembly today approved $176.6 million in funding for environmental testing and cleanup work in neighborhoods surrounding the now-shuttered Exide Technologies battery-recycling plant in Vernon.

The Assembly’s approval moves the legislation to Gov. Jerry Brown, who proposed the funding.

State officials said the funding would pay for testing of residential properties, schools, day care centers and parks within a 1.7-mile radius of the plant, and fund cleaning of as many as 2,500 properties with the highest lead levels.

“The loan funds in the legislation will speed up the testing and cleanup process for thousands of homes affected by Exide and makes sure the state will go after Exide to get back the money that  is spent cleaning up their mess,” Assembly Speaker Ed Rendon, D-Paramount, said. “… While the
toxic damage has already taken a toll on our communities, the action we are taking today will go a long way toward  restoring the safety and quality of life for the residents harmed by the poisons that Exide dumped  on them.”

The Exide plant permanently closed in March 2015. When Exide agreed to close the lead-acid battery recycling plant, it committed to pay $50 million for cleanup of the site and surrounding neighborhoods. Of that amount, $26 million is meant to be set aside for residential cleanup.

As of last August, Exide, which filed for bankruptcy in 2013, had paid $9 million into a trust and another $5 million was due to be paid by March 2020, according to state officials.

Dedicated Facilities Needed to Treat Lead Exposure

April 14, 2016 by · Leave a Comment 

The latest development in the number of cases of lead contamination from Exide Technologies comes from a Los Angeles County public health official’s report to the Board of Supervisors.

County health officials tested the soil outside 500 homes close to the Exide plant and found all but eight of the homes had levels of lead so high that they pose a health risk to residents and require soil removal and decontamination.

Using special equipment that allowed for testing to be done in the field, County Health Director Cynthia Harding said 12 county teams tested about 50 homes a day, 500 homes in less than three-weeks, far out-pacing the number of tests completed by a contractor for Exide, which took two and half months to test 50 homes, and the Department of Toxic Substances Control, which took about two weeks to assess the same number of sites.

According to health officials, 45 homes had levels that qualified them as hazardous waste. One hundred seventy nine had lead levels that exceeded the federal residential action level and 268 had lead levels that the state has identified as requiring cleanup.

County nurses have been visiting the homes identified with elevated levels of lead informing residents about blood testing and how to minimize the potential health effects.

The county’s numbers, while disturbing, were not unexpected. EGP has on more than one occasion criticized state regulators and officials for not acting aggressively enough and the county’s numbers give added weight to those criticisms.

While we agree that it is important for county health personnel to visit the homes of impacted residents, it’s not enough.

The state and county need to set up designated locations where residents, especially children, with elevated levels of lead in their blood can immediately begin treatment and receive wrap-around services for consequences such as learning disabilities.

Treatment and services should begin quickly and not be caught up in the usual red tape of referrals that often keeps people from getting care. Services must also be made available regardless of a person’s immigration status.

There is no more time to delay. Much damage has probably already been done to residents’ health. EGP worries that in many cases the damage cannot be reversed.

L.A. County Supervisors Frustrated By Pace of Exide Cleanup

April 14, 2016 by · Leave a Comment 

County workers have moved quickly to assess soil, arrange cleanup and reach out to 500 families living near the now-shuttered Exide Technologies battery recycling plant, where a recent study found children have higher levels of lead in their blood, a public health official told the Board of Supervisors Tuesday.

Staffers have focused on homes in East Los Angeles, Commerce and Maywood, sending out a dozen three-person teams to sample and test for lead, Department of Public Health Interim Director Cynthia Harding told the supervisors.

The board, frustrated by the pace of the response from state regulators, recently asked DPH to intervene.

Harding said her department sampled and tested 500 properties in less than three weeks.

A contractor for Exide took about 2 1/2 months to assess 50 homes, while the state Department of Toxic Substances Control managed to get to the same number of homes in two weeks, according to Harding.

“We did 50 homes a day,” Harding told the board.

DTSC is also working on cleanup, and Harding said the agencies were coordinating, via weekly meetings, to “make sure we’re not stepping on one another’s toes.”

Harding said 83 percent of residents received results of county soil tests the next day, along with information on available health resources. The balance of the residents weren’t home when county employees stopped by multiple times.

Public health nurses were sent to visit the 45 homes where lead levels were found to be at hazardous waste levels, above 1000 parts per million.

All but eight of the 500 homes, four of which had no soil at all, had levels at least in excess of the DTSC threshold for remediation, Harding said.

Supervisor Hilda Solis said state staffers failed in their outreach to residents. They didn’t explain how residents should protect themselves from potentially contaminated soil and didn’t bother to tell families who had to vacate their homes during cleanup about vouchers for temporary housing, she said.

“DTSC really has to pay attention to what the needs are of this community,” Solis said.

“There are many people who have already suffered enough.”

In addition to continuing community outreach on soil testing and health education, county officials continue to press for faster action by the state and have thrown their support behind bills which call for $176.6 million in funding for cleanup.

Solis characterized it as a David and Goliath-like fight.

“We’re David and we’re up against some very big lobbying guns up there,” Solis said.

The $176.6 million in funding for further testing and environmental cleanup has been approved by the state Senate and is pending a vote by the Assembly.

State officials said the money would pay for testing of residential properties, schools, day care centers and parks within a 1.7-mile radius of the plant, and fund cleaning of as many as 2,500 properties with the highest lead levels.

The study performed by the state Department of Public Health at the request of DTSC found that children under age 6 who lived near the plant ¬– which was permanently closed in March 2015 – were likely to have more lead in their blood than children in Los Angeles County overall.

According to the study, 3.58 percent of young children who live within a mile of the plant had levels of 4.5 micrograms of lead or more per deciliter of blood. Among children who lived between one and 4.5 miles of the plant, 2.41 percent had 4.5 micrograms or more.

According to DTSC, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention considers 5 micrograms or greater to be an indicator of significantly high lead levels requiring public health action. California’s baseline, however, is 4.5 micrograms.

Although the study focused on proximity to the plant, researchers found that the age of housing was a contributing factor to lead levels, noting that homes closer to the facility tend to be older. The age of housing is significant, since lead levels in paint were not regulated until 1978.

When Exide agreed to close the lead-acid battery recycling plant, it committed to pay $50 million for cleanup of the site and surrounding neighborhoods. Of that amount, $26 million is meant to be set aside for residential cleanup.

As of last August, Exide, which filed for bankruptcy in 2013, had paid $9 million into a trust and another $5 million was due to be paid by March 2020, according to state officials.

Study Finds Children Living Near Exide Have Higher Levels of Lead in Blood

April 8, 2016 by · Leave a Comment 

Children who live near the former Exide Technologies battery-recycling plant in Vernon have higher levels of lead in their blood than those who live farther away, according to a report released today by state health officials, who said the age of the homes the children live in was also a
contributing factor.

The study performed by the state Department of Public Health at the request of the Department of Toxic Substances Control, found that children under age 6 who lived near the plant were likely to have more lead in their blood than children in Los Angeles County overall.

According to the study, 3.58 percent of young children who live within a mile of the plant had levels of 4.5 micrograms of lead or more per deciliter of blood. Among children who lived between one and 4.5 miles of the plant, 2.41 percent had 4.5 micrograms or more, the study found.

By comparison, only 1.95 percent of children countywide had such levels of lead in their blood in 2012, state officials said.

According to DTSC, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention considers 5 micrograms or greater to be an indicator of significantly high lead levels requiring public health action. California’s baseline, however, is 4.5 micrograms.

Although the study focused on proximity to the plant, researchers found that the age of housing was a contributing factor to lead levels, noting that homes closer to the facility tend to be older. The age of housing is significant, since lead levels in paint were not regulated until 1978.

According to the study, 3.11 percent of young children living near Exide in homes built before 1940 had elevated blood lead levels, while only 1.87 percent of children near the plant in homes built after 1940 had elevated levels.

The Exide plant permanently closed in March 2015. When Exide agreed to close the lead-acid battery recycling plant, it committed to pay $50 million for cleanup of the site and surrounding neighborhoods. Of that amount, $26 million is meant to be set aside for residential cleanup.

As of last August, Exide, which filed for bankruptcy in 2013, had paid $9 million into a trust and another $5 million was due to be paid by March 2020, according to state officials.

Gov. Jerry Brown has proposed spending $176.6 million for further testing
and environmental cleanup of the area surrounding the plant. The state Senate approved the funding on Thursday. The issue will now go before the Assembly.

State officials said the funding would pay for testing of residential properties, schools, day care centers and parks within a 1.7-mile radius of the plant, and fund cleaning of as many as 2,500 properties with the highest lead levels.

Legisladores Avanzan con la Limpieza de Exide

April 7, 2016 by · Leave a Comment 

Cuando Teresa Márquez escuchó por primera vez que el gobernador Jerry Brown había propuesto $176,6 millones para acelerar y ampliar la limpieza de casas y otras propiedades contaminadas por una planta de reciclaje de baterías de plomo-ácido, ahora cerrada, se dijo a sí misma y a otros, “hasta no ver, no creer”.

Han pasado casi dos meses desde que los legisladores estatales aseguraron a residentes que tendrían un plazo de dos semanas para presentar “la legislación de urgencia” para apropiarse de la financiación propuesta por Brown, un compromiso que llegó el miércoles con la introducción del “paquete de limpieza de Exide” en la Asamblea y el Senado.

Read this article in English: Lawmakers Move Bills for Exide Cleanup

Bajo la AB 118, escrito por el asambleísta y coordinador de la bancada mayoritaria Miguel Santiago, y la versión del Senado, SB 93, escrito por el Presidente Pro Tempore Kevin de León, el estado apropiaría inmediatamente un préstamo de $176,6 millones para el Departamento de Control de Sustancias Tóxicas (DTSC) para la limpieza de comunidades del este y sureste de Los Ángeles contaminadas con plomo y otras sustancias químicas tóxicas por la planta Exide en Vernon.

Se espera que los proyectos de ley lleguen al escritorio del gobernador a finales de la próxima semana, y todo indica a que él los firmará.

“Este es un proyecto de ley agresivo con línea de tiempo”, dijo Santiago, quien inició el proceso dando meritos a los proyectos de ley durante una reunión especial de un subcomité sobre el presupuesto el miércoles por la mañana.

“Me atengo a mi declaración original que estamos buscando el proceso más rápido, de mejor calidad para acelerar los esfuerzos de limpieza”, Santiago le dijo a EGP el miércoles. El miembro de la asamblea, quien representa la mayor parte de las comunidades contaminadas por la planta Exide, incluyendo Boyle Heights, Los Ángeles, Vernon, Maywood y Huntington Park, era un rostro familiar en las audiencias y reuniones de DTSC.

Su proyecto de ley, AB 118, permite que DTSC tenga acceso a los fondos hasta junio de 2018, una fecha que la jefe personal de Santiago, Jackie Koenig le dijo a EGP se incluye como un mecanismo de presupuesto, explicando que los fondos estarán disponibles a DTSC después de la fecha de 2018, si es necesario.

El préstamo de varios millones de dólares sólo se puede utilizar para actividades relacionadas con la limpieza, incluyendo las pruebas y el proceso de revisión ambiental CEQA, así como para la capacitación empleados locales contratados y los costos relacionados con la recuperación de los fondos de las partes potencialmente responsables, entre ellos Exide.

Trabajadores examinan el suelo de una propiedad en el Este de L.A. (DTSC)

Trabajadores examinan el suelo de una propiedad en el Este de L.A. (DTSC)

También ordena que DSTC mantenga al público informado de su progreso mediante la publicación regular en su página web el número de acuerdos de acceso a la propiedad recibidas, las propiedades examinadas y propiedades remediadas. La agencia reguladora del estado también será requerida que actualice a los legisladores del estado acerca del esfuerzo de limpieza y proporcione un resumen de sus hallazgos durante las solicitudes de financiación anual de DTSC.

DTSC se está preparando para comenzar el proceso de evaluación de impacto ambiental (EIR) y espera comenzar la limpieza de propiedades residenciales, escuelas, guarderías y parques en un radio de 1,7 millas alrededor de la planta de reciclaje de baterías a finales de la primavera de 2017. El EIR es requerido bajo la Ley de Calidad Ambiental de California (CEQA), que obliga a las agencias estatales y locales a identificar los impactos ambientales significativos y la mitigación de la comunidad.

Inicialmente, hubo una propuesta para exonerar la limpieza de la comunidad del proceso de CEQA debido a la preocupación de que podría estancar aún más el proceso para eliminar el plomo, arsénico y otros productos químicos potencialmente peligrosos de los hogares de la zona y otras propiedades.

Sin embargo, la semana pasada, la directora de DTSC Bárbara Lee, hablando con el Subcomité de Presupuesto de la Asamblea de Recursos y Transporte, dijo que es el deseo de los líderes de la comunidad y grupos ambientales para no eximir la limpieza de Exide del proceso de CEQA. La idea inicial era darle a la limpieza la mayor prioridad lo más rápido, efectivo y seguro como fuera posible, dijo.

El proceso de revisión ambiental comenzará a principios de mayo con una revisión pública de 30 días de la notificación de preparación, seguido de una reunión pública ese mismo mes, de acuerdo con el DTSC.

La agencia estima que dará a conocer un borrador del proyecto EIR en algún momento de octubre. Suponiendo que no se permiten extensiones, el público tendrá 45 días para comentar sobre el DEIR por escrito o en una audiencia pública. DTSC estima que podría publicar un EIR final para revisión pública en algún momento de marzo de 2017 y certificar el documento en abril, si no hay retrasos.

La agencia estatal actualmente esta examinando y limpiando propiedades utilizando los $7 millones recibidos por Exide el verano pasado. El proceso de CEQA no afectaría futuras pruebas, las cuales continuarán mientras el EIR es aprobado, de acuerdo a DTSC.

“La administración se mantiene abierta a trabajar con líderes de la comunidad y la legislatura para explorar formas de acelerar la revisión de CEQA”, Lee le dijo a la comisión la semana pasada. “La salud y la seguridad de esta comunidad—especialmente en los más jóvenes y los más vulnerables—tiene que ser nuestra principal prioridad”.

DTSC ahora dice que va a utilizar la información del Departamento de Salud Pública de California, que llevó a cabo los análisis de sangre para determinar los niveles de plomo en los niños que viven en las zonas que rodean el plan de Vernon para “redefinir y orientar nuestras pruebas y limpieza”.

Hasta la fecha, más de 1.000 propiedades en los alrededores de Exide han sido examinadas y más de 200 propiedades han sido limpiadas, de acuerdo con el DTSC.

Márquez cree que todavía es demasiado tarde.

“No sé por qué ha tomado tanto tiempo, se podría pensar para ahora ya estarían más avanzados”, dijo.

“Los niños están siendo envenenados”, enfatizó. “Lo queremos hecho desde ayer”.

Santiago está de acuerdo y dice que le preocupa que el proceso de descontaminación podría prolongarse.

“Cada día que esperamos es un día que nuestra comunidad no tiene justicia”, le dijo a EGP.

DTSC debió haber tomado buenas notas durante las decenas de reuniones públicas realizadas sobre el tema, dijo a EGP Santiago, refiriéndose al testimonio ya disponible sobre el impacto de contaminantes tóxicos de Exide, así como preocupaciones sobre los riesgos potenciales durante el proceso de limpieza.

“Tenemos que asegurarnos de que tenemos esto correcto al frente para que no nos enfrentemos a los mismos problemas”, dijo.

“Puedo asegurar que todos las cintas rojas serán removidas y los vecindarios serán limpiados”.

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Twitter @nancyreporting

nmartinez@egpnews.com

Lawmakers Move Bills for Exide Cleanup

April 7, 2016 by · Leave a Comment 

When Teresa Marquez first heard that Gov. Jerry Brown was proposing $176.6 million to expedite and expand the cleanup of homes and other properties contaminated by a now-shuttered lead-acid battery recycling plant, she told herself and others, “I won’t believe it, until I see it.”

It’s been nearly two months since state lawmakers assured residents they would within two weeks introduce “urgency legislation” to appropriate the funding proposed by Brown, a commitment they made good on Wednesday with the introduction of the “Exide Clean-Up Package” in the Assembly and Senate.

Lea este artículo en Español: Legisladores Avanzan con la Limpieza de Exide

Under AB 118, authored by Majority Whip Assemblyman Miguel Santiago, and the Senate version authored by Senate President Pro Tempore Kevin de Leon, SB 93, the state would immediately appropriate a $176.6 million loan to the Department of Toxic Substances Control to be used for cleanup of east and southeast communities contaminated with lead and other toxic chemicals by the Exide plant in Vernon.

The bills are expected to land on the governor’s desk by the end of next week, and all accounts are that he will sign it.

“This is an aggressive bill and timeline,” said Santiago, who kicked off the process by talking up the merits of the bills during a special meeting of a budget subcommittee Wednesday morning.

“I stand by my original statement that we are looking for the fasted, highest quality process to speed up the cleanup efforts,” Santiago told EGP Wednesday. The assemblyman, who represents most of the communities contaminated by the Exide plant, including Boyle Heights, East Los Angeles, Vernon, Maywood and Huntington Park, was a regular face at DTSC hearings and meetings.

His bill, AB 118, gives DTSC access to the funds through June 2018, a date which Santiago’s chief of staff, Jackie Koenig, told EGP is included as a budget mechanism, explaining funds will still be available to DTSC after the 2018 date if needed.

The multi-million dollar loan can only be used for cleanup related activities, including testing and the CEQA environmental review process, as well as for job training of local hires and any costs related to the recovery of the funds from potentially responsible parties, including Exide.

It also mandates that DSTC keep the public informed of its progress by regularly posting on its website the number of property access agreements received, properties sampled and properties remedied. The state regulatory agency will also be required to update state legislators on the cleanup effort and provide a summary of their findings during DTSC’s annual funding requests.

A DTSC crew cleans a home at East Los Angeles. (Department of Toxic Substances Control)

A DTSC crew cleans a home at East Los Angeles. (Department of Toxic Substances Control)

DTSC is preparing to begin the environmental impact report (EIR) process and hopes to begin the cleanup of residential properties, schools, daycare centers and parks in the 1.7-mile radius surrounding the battery recycling plant by late spring 2017. The EIR is required under the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA), which mandates state and local agencies identify significant environmental impacts and mitigation to the community.

Initially, there was a proposal to exempt the community cleanup from the CEQA process out of concern that it could further stall the process to remove lead, arsenic, and other potentially dangerous chemicals from area homes and other properties.

However, last week, DTSC Director Barbara Lee, speaking to the Assembly Budget Subcommittee for Resources and Transportation, said it’s the wish of community leaders and environmental groups to not exempt the Exide cleanup from CEQA process. The initial thinking was to give the cleanup the highest priority as quickly, effectively and safely as possible, she said.

The environmental review process will begin in early May with a 30-day public review of the notice of preparation, followed by a public scoping meeting later that month, according to DTSC. The agency estimates it will release a draft EIR sometime in October. Assuming no extensions are granted, the public will have 45 days to comment on the DEIR in writing or during a public hearing. DTSC estimates it could release a final EIR for public review sometime in March 2017 and certify the document in by April, if there are no delays.

The state agency is currently sampling and cleaning properties using the $7 million it received from Exide last summer. The CEQA process would not effect future testing, which would continue while the EIR is being approved, according to DTSC.

“The administration remains open to working with community leaders and the legislature to explore ways to expedite the CEQA review,” Lee told the committee last week. “The health and safety of this community – especially the youngest and most vulnerable in it – has to be our top priority.”

Congressman Xavier Becerra, who also serves the impacted areas and serves as Chairman of the Democratic Caucus, applauded Governor Brown’s recent decision not to exempt the Exide lead cleanup from the CEQA review process.

“The Governor did the right thing by respecting the will of the residents impacted by the contamination. They deserve to have the cleanup, remediation and oversight done in a way that gains their trust and confidence after years of neglect,” he said.  “While it’s important to promptly undertake all the measures necessary to restore a clean and safe environment for the families, the work must be done, first and foremost, in partnership with the families who must live through this.”

DTSC now says it will use information from the California Department of Public Health, which conducted blood tests to determine the levels of lead in children living in the areas surrounding the Vernon plan, to “refine and target our testing and cleanup.”

To date, over 1000 properties in the area surrounding Exide have been sampled and over 200 properties have been cleaned, according to DTSC.

Marquez believes that is still too little, too late.

“I don’t know why it’s taken so long, you would think by now they would be further along,” she said.

“Children are being poisoned,” she emphasized. “We want it done yesterday.”

Santiago agrees and says he is concerned that the remediation process could be prolonged.

“Every day we wait is a day our community doesn’t get justice,” he told EGP.

DTSC should have taken good notes throughout the dozens of public meetings conducted on the issue, Santiago told EGP, referring to testimony already available on the impact of Exide’s toxic polluting as well as concerns about potential risks during the cleanup process.

“We need to make sure we get this right on the front end so we don’t run into the same problems,” he said.

“I can assure all the red tape will be torn down and the neighborhoods will be cleaned up.”

Update 11:45 a.m. This post has been updated to include a statement from Congressman Xavier Becerra.

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Twitter @nancyreporting

nmartinez@egpnews.com

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