Door-to-Door Exide Campaign Kicks Off Saturday

June 8, 2017 by · Leave a Comment 

Los Angeles County health officials and volunteers will be going door-to-door Saturday, visiting thousands of homes near the former Exide battery-recycling plant in Vernon to see if residents have health issues, link them with available services and provide them with educational materials.

“These residential communities have been unjustly exposed to hazardous living conditions for decades,” County Supervisor Hilda Solis said.

“Thousands of people still have not been given appropriate information about the contaminants or been connected to the appropriate resources to improve their lives.

“It is important we continue connecting our residents to the information and support they need to protect their health and their families,” she said.

Health officials and more than 1,500 community volunteers will be taking part in the outreach effort, visiting more than 20,000 homes within a 1.7-mile radius of the plant that closed in March 2015. The participants will survey residents about their health issues or concerns. The homes are in Bell, Boyle Heights, Commerce, Maywood, East Los Angeles, Huntington Park and Vernon.

The outreach effort will take place from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday.

After the effort, county health officials will prepare a report that will be publicly released.

“We want to ensure that the county understands the concerns of residents within the Exide area and that the residents are supported in their right to live in healthy neighborhoods and homes,” said Barbara Ferrer, director of the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health.

County officials have been pressing state regulators to expedite the cleanup of about 400 homes closest to the plant, noting that they have hazardous waste-level lead contamination. The state has allocated millions of dollars toward testing and cleanup operations at homes near the plant, and

Exide committed to invest $50 million to remediation efforts at the plant and surrounding neighborhoods.

Leader In Exide Fight Recognized

April 27, 2017 by · Leave a Comment 

Growing up in a home full of activists, it wouldn’t be long before East Los Angeles native Mark Lopez took the streets himself to advocate for clean air in his community, an effort that years later has now earned him recognition.

Lopez on Monday received the Goldman Environmental Prize, a prestigious worldwide recognition of grassroots environmentalists. He was recognized for his efforts in the fight against the now-shuttered Exide battery recycling plant, which he says is far from over.

Soon after earning a degree in environmental studies from UC Santa Cruz, Lopez returned to his hometown of East L.A., where he learned from his grandparents about a lead battery recycling plant violating air quality standards and exposing his community to arsenic and lead.

Since then, Lopez, executive director of East Yard Communities for Environmental Justice, along with other environmental activists, was instrumental in shutting down the controversial Exide plant in nearby Vernon. Testing has revealed thousands of homes within a 1.7-mile radius might have been contaminated.

Working with East Yard, Lopez began organizing door-to-door campaigns and bike tours to educate residents about the contamination. He organized rallies outside the Exide plant and traveled to Sacramento to demand the state fund the cleanup of the homes and other properties, including schools and parks: Gov. Brown eventually approved $176 million for testing and cleanup.

Lopez has since served as co-chair of the Department of Toxic Substances Control Exide Advisory Committee and played a role in advocating for The Lead-Acid Battery Recycling Act of 2016, a battery tax that is expected to generate $30 million for cleanup efforts.

On Tuesday, EGP spoke with Lopez about the environmental issues eastside residents face daily and the impact he made in the fight against Exide.

Mark Lopez stands in front of the now-shuttered Exide battery recycling plant in Vernon. (Goldman Environmental Prize)

Mark Lopez  in front of the now-shuttered Exide battery recycling plant in Vernon. (Goldman Environmental Prize)

 

EGP: What prompted you to do something about the Exide?

Lopez: The moment that turned it around for me was on a phone call with DTSC and the County, DTSC was claiming residents did not want their homes tested. I thought ‘no way this is true, let’s go out there ourselves’ and we began knocking on doors. We realized residents were not being informed and DTSC did not know how to do outreach in this community. That’s when I decided we needed to get involved because it felt like DTSC was lying and perpetrating a problem.

 

EGP: As co-chair of the Exide advisory board, what are some of the things you brought to the table that otherwise would not have been considered?

Lopez: It’s persistence; it’s calling the department out. It’s going to the state, calling for data, calling to question the information presented, calling out contradictory statements. We went out there and did the work the state wasn’t doing and taught the state how to do outreach. We just kept advancing the work ahead of the state.

 

EGP: What other environmental issues are eastside residents facing?

Lopez: The amount of trucks coming through the community and the rail yards in our backyards. But the issue nobody is talking about is that displacement caused by gentrification is causing our families to move to places like Riverside, places with the same polluting rail yards and industries.

Mark Lopez, executive director of East Yard Communities for Environental Justice received the Goldman Environmental Prize Monday. (Goldman Environmental Prize)

Mark Lopez, executive director of East Yard Communities for Environental Justice received the Goldman Environmental Prize Monday. (Goldman Environmental Prize)

EGP: Do you think there is a misconception that Latinos do not care about the environment or are not a part of the fight for environmental justice?

Lopez: Before the award ceremony we were invited to a short reception with Bay area youth. One young Latina asked if I thought that caring about the environment was a privilege.

I feel environmentalism is seen as something whites do but what we’re doing is not environmentalism, what we’re doing is the struggle right in front of us. We’re not talking about abstract things, we’re fighting against lead in our soul, the air we breath, the rail yards in our backyards. Working class folks have had to do more with less, they’ve been doing those things that are now seen as conservation.

 

EGP: What has Exide taught you? What does it say about community activism?

Lopez: One big lesson is sometimes we have to be ahead of the state, so far ahead that they have no choice left but to follow. If we know more than the state agencies we are able to dictate the plan moving forward.

Nothing is possible as an individual; everything is possible with a community. This is an intergenerational, intercommunity struggle. We didn’t beat Exide in Washington D.C., we beat Exide in the streets of East L.A. I hope other communities are inspired by what we’re doing.

 

EGP: What are some of the battles the next generation of activists will have to take on?

Lopez: Young folks don’t remember President George W. Bush. During that time there was a lot of consciousness and culture of resistance, but going into the President Barrack Obama era, that went away. What we need to do is sustain that resistance.

I’m the 3rd generation fighting for the closure of Exide. Thankfully my young daughters will not be the 4th generation. What they will be is the 2nd generation fighting for the Exide cleanup. This cleanup is not going to be done before they become adults, that’s the reality. It’s an ever-present struggle in our community.

 

County Wants DTSC to Expedite Exide Cleanup

March 2, 2017 by · Leave a Comment 

County health officials said Tuesday they are pressing state regulators to expedite the cleanup of an estimated 400 homes near the shuttered Exide battery-recycling plant in Vernon that have hazardous waste-level lead contamination.

The 400 homes where soil tested for lead showed levels at or above 1,000 parts per million are the highest priority, according to Angelo Bellomo, the county’s deputy director for health protection.

“We believe there is sufficient basis for … expediting the cleanup (of soil on those properties),’’ Bellomo told the Board of Supervisors.

However, the DTSC is considering other criteria ­— in addition to contamination levels – in deciding how to prioritize cleanup of individual homes.

Those factors include whether children under the age of 7 or pregnant women live at a contaminated site and whether residents have a blood-lead level at or above five micrograms per deciliter, according to guidance published on the agency’s website.

County officials disagree.

“Everybody who is living in a house [with levels at or above 1,000 ppm]… needs mitigation … and needs mitigation immediately,” Department of Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer told the board.

“And that means soil removal and not laying plastic over it.”

Bellomo said he hoped initial cleanup efforts could begin in April.

“I sense that (the state Department of Toxic Substances Control) is trying to do the right thing, but they seem to be going very slow,” Supervisor Hilda Solis said.

DTSC documentation calls for a draft cleanup plan and environmental impact report to be finalized in June, with cleanup beginning in the summer. An agency spokeswoman confirmed those time estimates still hold, but said high-risk sites could be addressed earlier.

Properties with contamination between 400-1,000 ppm also meet federal regulatory levels for cleanup and state public health officials calculate that levels need to be below 80 ppm to eliminate lead risk.

The DTSC’s proposal calls for soil to be cleaned to below 80 ppm, and agency contractors are still in the process of testing the lead levels in surrounding communities. The regulatory agency estimates that it could handle cleanup of an average of 50 properties per week and that the work would be completed within two years.

State and county personnel are wrangling over whether cleanup is warranted inside homes, according to Bellomo, with the county arguing that interiors must at least be assessed and possibly cleaned.

Community leaders are also making this point,’’ Bellomo told the board.

The agency said in December that it would offer interior cleaning, but did not specify in what cases and whether that cleaning would be to specific environmental standards or to deal with the consequences of soil removal.

The discussion about DTSC’s progress was prompted when Solis asked for an update on complaints by workers employed to do soils testing.

Some workers employed by DTSC contractors alleged that they have been forced to manipulate testing data, work in unsafe conditions that expose them to contaminated soil and subjected to racist and derogatory comments by field managers, Deputy County Counsel Robert Ragland told the board.

The allegations have been referred to the state Attorney General’s office.

“I think the investigation has just begun,” Ragland said, telling the board that the county was awaiting the results of that review.

DTSC “encourages potentially affected individuals to have their blood lead levels tested’’ and offers a hotline for residents with questions about cleanup at (844) 225-3887.

 

Exide: Estado Acelera Limpieza de Viviendas Con Altos Niveles de Plomo Después de Largo Retraso

January 19, 2017 by · Leave a Comment 

Los reguladores ambientales estatales anunciaron el jueves que permitirán una limpieza acelerada de los hogares de alto riesgo cerca de la previa planta de reciclaje de baterías Exide Technologies en Vernon. Esto será permitido incluso antes de que se complete un plan de mitigación a su totalidad y una revisión ambiental.

El Departamento de Control de Sustancias Tóxicas dio a conocer un borrador del plan de limpieza e informe del impacto ambiental para su revisión pública en diciembre. Las operaciones de limpieza se esperan comiencen este verano para mitigar el suelo contaminado con plomo y las propiedades cerca de la planta.

Sin embargo, ese horario provocó críticas entre algunos de los residentes y funcionarios del área que dijeron que algunas de las propiedades cerca de la planta están en un riesgo particularmente alto.

Un negocio en el Este de Los Ángeles orgullosamente promueve baterías de autos de la marca Exide. (EGP)

La planta de Exide fue permanentemente cerrada en marzo de 2015. (EGP)

Funcionarios del DTSC dijeron el jueves que avanzarán con las limpiezas en una base de “caso por caso” en un número de propiedades limitadas “con altos niveles de plomo en el suelo y con las mayores exposiciones a los sectores vulnerables de la población”.

“Estamos utilizando todos los recursos que tenemos a nuestra disposición para asegurarnos de que podamos proteger a las poblaciones más sensibles que han sido impactadas por la presencia del plomo en el suelo a causa de las operaciones de Exide”, dijo la directora de DTSC, Bárbara Lee.

La agencia considerará acelerar la limpieza de las propiedades que tengan tierra con niveles de plomo de 1,000 partes por millón o más. La agencia también considerará limpiar las propiedades con residentes que “tengan un nivel de plomo en la sangre de o por encima de cinco microgramos por decilitro, el nivel utilizado por los Centros para el Control y la Prevención de Enfermedades de EE.UU. para identificar a los niños con niveles elevados de plomo en la sangre”.

La asambleísta Cristina García, quien representa a algunas de las comunidades afectadas, dice estar satisfecha con las nuevas directrices de la agencia estatal.

Miembros de la comunidad durante reunión discutiendo la planta Exide. Foto de EGP

Miembros de la comunidad durante reunión discutiendo la planta Exide. Foto de EGP

“Vamos a asegurarnos de que las directrices se implementen rápidamente, ya que es imperativo que las casas con la mayor contaminación se limpien tan pronto sea posible teniendo en cuenta los efectos en la salud de vivir expuestos al plomo”, dijo García en un comunicado de prensa.

“Estas familias no han tenido más remedio que vivir en esta contaminación durante años. No pueden esperar más”, agregó.

Cuando Exide acordó cerrar la planta de reciclaje de baterías de plomo, se comprometió a pagar $50 millones por la limpieza del sitio y de los vecindarios circundantes.

De esa cantidad, $26 millones están destinados a ser reservados para la limpieza residencial. El gobernador Jerry Brown firmó a principios de este año una legislación que otorgaba $176.6 millones en fondos para pruebas ambientales y trabajos de limpieza en vecindarios alrededor de la planta ahora cerrada.

Funcionarios estatales dijeron que el financiamiento pagaría por pruebas de propiedades residenciales, escuelas, guarderías y parques dentro de un radio de 1.7 millas de la planta, y financiaría la limpieza de hasta 2,500 propiedades con los mayores niveles de plomo.

El DTSC publicó el Informe del Proyecto de Impacto Ambiental y el Plan de Acción (Limpieza) Correctiva para la limpieza residencial. El público tendrá hasta el 15 de febrero para revisar el documento y hacer conocer sus comentarios.

Una reunión pública se llevará a cabo hoy a las 9 p.m. en el Ayuntamiento de Maywood, para proporcionarle la oportunidad a los interesados de presentar sus comentarios en persona. Una segunda reunión está programada para el sábado, 28 de enero a las 9 a.m. en la Iglesia de Resurrección en Boyle Heights.

Exide: After Long Delay, State Moves to Speed Cleaning of Homes With Highest Levels of Lead

January 13, 2017 by · Leave a Comment 

State environmental regulators issued guidelines Thursday that will allow expedited cleanups of high-risk homes near the shuttered Exide Technologies battery-recycling plant in Vernon even before a full mitigation plan and environmental review are completed.

The Department of Toxic Substances Control released a draft cleanup plan and environmental impact report for public review in December, with cleanup operations to mitigate lead-contaminated soil and properties near the plant anticipated to begin this summer.

That schedule, however, sparked criticism from some residents and area officials who said some properties near the plant are at particularly high risk.

DTSC officials said Thursday they will move forward with cleanups on a “case-by-case basis” at a limited number of properties “with high levels of lead in the soil and the greatest exposures to sensitive populations.”

“We are utilizing all of the resources at our disposal to ensure that we are able to take action to protect the most sensitive populations impacted by the presence of lead in the soil from the Exide operations,” DTSC Director Barbara Lee said.

The agency plans to consider for expedited cleanup properties that have soil with lead levels of 1,000 parts per million or more. The agency will also consider cleanups at properties were a resident
“has a blood-lead level at or above five micrograms per deciliter, which is the level used by the U.S.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to identify children with elevated blood-lead 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.

Gov. Jerry Brown earlier this year signed legislation providing $176.6 million in funding for environmental testing and cleanup work in neighborhoods surrounding the now-shuttered plant.

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.

Líderes Ambientales Son Reconocidos por Agencia de Calidad del Aire

January 12, 2017 by · Leave a Comment 

Dos líderes de la justicia ambiental quien han defendido y luchado incansablemente por el aire limpio durante años en una de las regiones más contaminadas del Condado de Los Ángeles fueron reconocidos la semana pasada por el Distrito de Administración de Calidad del Aire de la Costa Sur (SCAQMD por sus siglas en inglés).

El cofundador de “East Yard Communities for Environmental Justice”, Angelo Logan, y el Monseñor John Moretta, de la Iglesia de Resurrección, fueron honrados por la agencia estatal durante un almuerzo el 5 de enero en Commerce.

Ambos son miembros del grupo consultivo de justicia ambiental del SCAQMD y son conocidos por su participación en la lucha contra la planta de reciclaje de baterías Exide en Vernon que ahora está cerrada. Ellos también han hablado a favor de las comunidades marginadas por años, quienes han sufrido más las consecuencias dañinas a su salud por la contaminación de Exide.

Miembros de la comunidad durante reunión discutiendo la planta Exide. Foto de EGP

Miembros de la comunidad durante una reunión pública discutiendo la planta Exide. Foto de EGP

“No sólo se preocupan profundamente por sus comunidades, sino que se han comprometido totalmente”, dijo Wayne Nastri, oficial ejecutivo del SCAQMD, durante el almuerzo. “Su liderazgo e inspiración nos hace a todos mejores y nos da algo que imitar”.

Angelo Logan fundó un Movimiento de Justicia Ambiental en el Este

Logan co-fundó East Yard Communities for Environmental Justice en 2001 como respuesta al alarmante número de personas que conoció en la Ciudad de Commerce con asma. Rodeado de ferrocarriles, autopistas y por la industria, Logan – un mecánico en ese entonces – decidió luchar contra los contaminadores de la industria para asegurarse de que él y sus vecinos tuvieran un aire puro.

“Si no nos hubiéramos involucrado, nadie lo habría hecho”, él dijo a EGP. “Lo hicimos por el amor a la comunidad”.

Bajo su liderazgo, East Yard organizó a los residentes y juntos se involucraron en asuntos relacionados directamente con la salud y la calidad de vida.

El director ejecutivo actual de East Yard, Mark López, le dijo a EGP que Logan fue fundamental en la creación de la póliza de zonas verdes de Commerce. La póliza tiene como objetivo el prevenir la exposición tóxica de los residentes con los negocios locales. Al igual, la póliza lucha para revitalizar las oportunidades económicas locales y la infraestructura a lo largo de los bulevares principales.

“Angelo [Logan] ha establecido el tono en la comunidad”, explicó López.

Logan dijo que aceptaba el premio a nombre del movimiento por la justicia ambiental, aprovechando el momento para “anteponer la verdad al poder”.

Angelo BTT

Angelo Logan habla acerca de historia de East Yard Comunnities for Environmental Justice durante una Gira de bicicletas.

El mecánico convertido en líder sin fines de lucro alentó a los asistentes a utilizar cualquier poder que tengan a su disponibilidad, ya sea el poder de las personas o el poder político, para mantener la lucha por la justicia ambiental.

También agregó que los cambios que llegarán a Washington DC – refiriéndose al nuevo gobierno de Trump – resultará en una lucha por la justicia ambiental.

“California está al frente de los esfuerzos para la purificación del aire para el resto del país y del mundo … Nos ven como un modelo en medidas que protegen la salud pública”, dijo Logan. “Debemos continuar haciéndonos mutualmente responsables los unos a otros”, dijo, y le pidió al SCAQMD que permanezca atento del Tesoro Refinery en Carson.

“Asegúrense de que no se aprovechen de la comunidad”, advirtió.

Zully Juárez está a cargo del desarrollo y de comunicaciones de East Yard y dijo que Logan siempre ha prestado atención a los impactos locales y ha utilizado su poder para construir su comunidad.

“Él puso las cosas en perspectiva y siempre habla desde el corazón”, dijo a EGP.

A pesar de no tener el entrenamiento tradicional do muchos líders del medio ambiente o experiencia en organización comunitaria, López dice que el trabajo entre Logan y los residentes, las agencias estatales y funcionarios públicos ha marcado la diferencia, señalando que quienes trabajan con él saben que él es honesto y compasivo.

“El podría ser considerado como un forastero con credibilidad por algunos”, dijo Juárez, agregando que Logan se ganó el respeto de los que le rodean.

“Sus esfuerzos a lo largo de los años hicieron posible que la comunidad que vivía aquí sea considerada experta y capaces de aportar soluciones a los problemas que nos aquejan”, ella agregó.

Aunque ya no encabeza a East Yard, Logan sigue defendiendo la justicia ambiental. Actualmente, su atención y sus esfuerzos se centran en Long Beach. La tal también es una ciudad con ferrocarriles, autopistas, industria y con un puerto, señala el Dr. Joseph K. Lyou, miembro de la Junta Directiva de AQMD, quien conoció a Logan hace 17 años.

Lyou recordó cómo el cofundador de East Yard le invitó a hacer un recorrido por los ferrocarriles de Commerce, y cómo Logan identificó a una planta de reciclaje de baterías de plomo señalando que era dañina hacia la comunidad y necesitaba ser cerrada.

“Esa fue la primera vez que escuche algo referente a Exide”, dijo Lyou.

Rev. Juan Moretta toma el mensaje de la justicia del púlpito a la calle

El Monseñor Moretta ha sido el pastor de la Iglesia de Resurrección en Boyle Heights durante 33 años. Cuando no está en la iglesia, está organizando a los residentes y combatiendo las injusticias en la zona.

_MG_9246

Sus esfuerzos lo han hecho a el Monseñor John Moretta un “líder respetado y admirado en Boyle Heights”. Foto de EGP por Nancy Martínez.

Juntamente con el grupo Madres del Este de L.A., un grupo activista que él co-fundó, Moretta ha luchado para impedir un plan polémico de construcción de una planta central eléctrica de mega-vatio en Vernon y antes de eso a una prisión en el Este de Los Ángeles. Él también participó en la exitosa campaña que evitó la construcción de un incinerador de residuos peligrosos en Boyle Heights y en la larga lucha contra el cierre de Exide.

Estas acciones convierten a Moretta en el “padre de la justicia ambiental”, dijo Lyou.

Lyou señaló que Moretta ha ayudado a agencias como SCAQMD a escuchar directamente a los residentes, muchas veces recibiendo audiencias públicas en la Iglesia de la Resurrección.

Bajo la dirección de Moretta, la iglesia de Boyle Heights ha sido durante los últimos 19 años el hogar del grupo Resurrection Neighborhood Watch. Al igual que otros grupos de vigilancia de los vecindarios, con miembros unidos para mantener la seguridad de la comunidad deteniendo crímenes violentos y de propiedad. El grupo de Resurrección también protege seriamente a los residentes de la comunidad, en su mayoría latinos, de ser víctimas de injusticias ambientales.

Los residentes y los feligreses que componen el grupo han sido fieles a las audiencias relacionadas con Exide. Ellos han expresado repetidamente sus preocupación por el manejo del sitio tóxico y cualquier asunto que pueda afectar la salud o la seguridad de la comunidad.

Moretta admite que no todas las luchas en las que han participado han resultado victoriosas a su favor. Él señaló que la comunidad perdió la batalla por un proyecto de metro menos intrusivo en el este. A diferencia de Hollywood, la comunidad estaba atascada con un sistema de tren ligero por encima del suelo que dividía a su comunidad, él recordó.

“Todavía hay injusticias hacia los pobres”, dijo Moretta a EGP. “El ‘chico pobre’ no está familiarizado con el sistema que por ende se aprovecha de los desfavorecidos”, él lamentó.

Moretta agradeció a los miembros de la comunidad que han desempeñado un papel importante en llevar la justicia a una comunidad que a menudo es ignorada.

“No estaría aquí sin la gente en esta habitación”, dijo Moretta mientras aceptaba su premio.

Moretta se merece el reconocimiento por su incansable lucha para proteger a la comunidad, dijo Terri Cano, residente de Boyle Heights, quien como Moretta testificó ante los legisladores estatales para condenar el manejo y la aplicación por parte de los reguladores estatales de la contaminación de Exide.

“La mayoría de los sacerdotes trabajan fuera de su iglesia, pero el padre John [Moretta] ha llegado hasta Sacramento en representación de sus feligreses”, señaló con admiración.

Terry Márquez conoce a Moretta desde hace décadas, primeramente siendo parte de las Madres del Este de L.A. Ella dice que él siempre ha sido alguien confiable en la comunidad.

“No lo cuestiono, sé que él realmente se preocupa por esta comunidad”.

Moretta dice que vigilará a Exide, así como a las compañías de metales localizadas en Boyle Heights. En el pasado, estas empresas han sido acusadas de eliminar de manera inapropiada los materiales peligrosos y de contaminar su entorno con polvo metálico.

Para este último esfuerzo, Moretta dice que espera inspirar y reclutar a una nueva generación de activistas y líderes de la comunidad del este.

“La próxima generación tiene que continuar la lucha”, él agregó.

Final EIR for Demolishing Exide Plant Released

December 15, 2016 by · Leave a Comment 

When the public was presented the draft closure plan for the now shuttered Exide battery recycling plant a year ago, dozens of residents, environmental activists and health experts took issue with some of the details, including safety protections for workers. They were also worried that the dismantling of the site could result in the recontamination of nearby communities.

Some of those concerns have been addressed in the Final Environmental Impact Report (FEIR) for the closure approved and released Dec. 8 by the Department of Toxic Substances Control (DTSC), the state regulatory agency handling the cleanup of the Vernon facility and surrounding communities.

DTSC has also just released the Draft Environmental Impact Report and Draft Remedial Action (Cleanup) Plan for the residential portion of the cleanup process, which is expected to undergo the same level of public scrutiny during the 45-day public comment period that ends at 5 p.m. on Jan. 31, 2017.

Smelting operations at the Exide plant – located on the 2700 block of South Indiana Street – were shut down by state regulators in March 2014, but not before exposing an estimated 110,000 eastside and southeast residents to cancer-causing and neurological damaging toxins. The facility was permanently closed the following year by federal regulators after racking up dozens of hazardous waste violations with near impunity.

Many of the recommendations submitted by the public are contained in the Final EIR for the plant closure, “resulting in a clearer analysis” and in several instances “modifications to the project and environmental mitigation,” according to DTSC.

An Exide worker at the Vernon plant in 2014 when it was still in operation. (Photo by Patrick Connor)

An Exide worker at the Vernon plant in 2014 when it was still in operation. (Photo by Patrick Connor)

The agency specifically responded to issues repeatedly raised during public meetings held at the beginning of this year and submitted in written form, related to concerns about worker health and safety, the removal of lead from on-site kettles, and the routes trucks transporting hazardous waste from the site will travel.

Over the last three years, at dozens of public meetings and hearings, those same groups have also demanded a safe and thorough cleanup of homes, parks, schools and other properties contaminated with lead and other toxic chemicals released by the Exide plant.

The just released draft EIR for that effort is a preliminary outline of the process DTSC plans to use to achieve that goal. As required by law, the 45-day public comment period for the draft cleanup plan and EIR gets underway today, with several public information sessions scheduled to take place in early January.

Mark Lopez, executive director of East Yards for Environmental Justice, told EGP he is disappointed both documents were released during the holiday season, when residents tend to be busy and less likely to have the time needed to review such extensive reports.

Smelting operations at the Exide plant in Vernon were shut down by state regulators in March 2014. (Photo by Patrick Connor)

Smelting operations at the Exide plant in Vernon were shut down by state regulators in March 2014. (Photo by Patrick Connor)

“This is the worst betrayal of trust and transparency that has happened in a while,” Lopez said about the timing, noting he had not yet reviewed the draft EIR but wants to make sure it addresses problems he witnessed in the handling of the first stage of the residential cleanup involving 200 or so homes near the Exide plant.

DTSC Director Barbara Lee said she considered delaying the release of the document until after the holiday but ultimately decided against it.

“What we have consistently heard from community members is that getting the document out to be looked at, at the earliest time is the primary objective,” she said during a call with the press Wednesday.

Assemblyman Miguel Santiago, who represents most of the neighborhoods impacted by Exide, said he was pleased that DTSC has finally released the documents for public review.

“This toxic and hazardous facility has been allowed to plague our community for far too long,” said Santiago. “I’m going to continue to demand that this clean-up happen in both a quick and quality manner and I’m prepared to engage legislatively with our community stakeholders to make sure that happens.”

Earlier this year, Lopez was among many who opposed reigniting the 100-ton kettles at the Exide plant as part of the lead removal strategy outlined in the draft closure plan. The concern being that the method could lead to recontamination.

“The kettle issue just didn’t seem to be headed in the right direction,” he told EGP Tuesday.

DTSC representatives could only document the comments made by the public during the review process, and not respond directly to his concerns until now. In the report released this month, the agency states it plans to reject the proposal to re-melt the lead in kettles after determining the method did not meet safety standards or protect the public, and points out there are alternatives to achieve the same goal.

DTSC also agreed that public comments concerning protections for workers were warranted. New conditions were added to the Final EIR, which require contractors to prepare a draft health and safety plan, comply with the most up-to-date standards for occupational lead exposure adopted by Cal/OSHA, even if they have not gone into effect, and to provide appropriate protection for workers operating in confined spaces.

Earlier this year, Dr. Jill Johnston, assistant professor at the Keck School of Medicine at USC, suggested the agency adopt stricter rules to prevent any more workers from being poisoned by Exide.

Residents were also concerned that transporting lead from the Vernon facility through local neighborhoods for disposal could be dangerous, potentially again exposing residents and properties to a new round of cancer-causing toxins.

Formal comments included multiple requests for zero-emission trucks to be used in the transport and for greater oversight of the transportation routes.

According to DTSC’s report, however, “There are not enough zero-emission trucks available to provide the number required by the proposed project.” The agency went on to explain that the trucks used to transport hazardous waste removed from the plant will only contribute a small percentage of construction emissions.

“The use of zero-emission trucks would not substantially lessen air quality emissions and the impact would remain significant and unavoidable.”

The agency proposes implementing tougher engine standards, restrict idling of construction equipment to 5 minutes when not in use and using electric cranes when feasible among other mitigation measures.

Exide must submit its closure implementation plan and workers’ health and safety plan for review by DTSC, and obtain all the required permits before starting work on demolishing and removing structures at the site.

The closure process is expected to begin in Spring 2017 and is expected to take up to two years to complete.

 

The draft EIR is available for review at several local libraries and at http://www.dtsc.ca.gov/HazardousWaste/Projects/UpdteExideSuspension.cfm. Five public information sessions and three public meetings will be held between Jan. 10 and Jan. 28. For more information, see DTSC’s public notice on page 7 of this newspaper, or call toll free (844) 225-3887.

 

 

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.”

 

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