Health Officials Continues to Hammer State’s Exide Plan

October 5, 2017 by · Leave a Comment 

The state is still not doing enough to protect residents who live near the now-shuttered Exide battery recycling plant in Vernon, the county’s public health director said Tuesday.

Barbara Ferrer, who leads the Department of Public Health, said the state’s method for testing soil to determine whether lead contamination exists is flawed.

“The sampling strategy just has you going to a handful of places in each yard. Unfortunately, with lead, it can be in one place in the yard and not another place,” Ferrer said.

County workers retested five parcels that had been cleared by the state’s Department of Toxic Substances Control and found three of the five still had hot spots, she told the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors.

Ferrer said the state needs to institute a block-by-block plan for cleanup to ensure environmental safety, rather than a house-by-house, parcel-by-parcel strategy.

County officials have also been pressing the state to clean up the inside of homes, saying residents track in contamination from their yards. And parkways, not just yards, need to be decontaminated, they say.

“The neighbors agree with us that the strategy right now doesn’t make sense at all,” Ferrer said.

The board and Ferrer acknowledged that they have no authority over the DTSC.

Ferrer, who was hired early this year, said she had tried cooperating with the agency but wasn’t getting the results she wanted.

“We share the frustration of the community at this point,” Ferrer said, citing “an inexplicable delay in actually coming into the community and doing mitigation.”

The DTSC released its cleanup plan in July and said it is committed to protecting the health of residents in the community.

“This cleanup plan is the result of more than a year of effort and community input,” a spokesman said then.

“In response to the public comments we received, DTSC adjusted the prioritization process to streamline it in a manner that continues to protect the health of residents at properties with the highest levels of lead in soil and the greatest risk of exposure to that lead,” said Mohsen Nazemi, deputy
director for DTSC’s Brownfields and Environmental Restoration Program.

The scope of work focuses on homes with soil lead concentrations of 400 parts per million or more, those with hot spot concentrations of 1,000 ppm or more, and daycare and child care centers with concentrations of 80 ppm or more.

As for the pace of its cleanup, the agency pointed out that it had stopped soil testing in order to accommodate a large-scale environmental review in response to complaints by residents and legislators.

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

Last year, Gov. Jerry Brown signed legislation providing $176.6 million in funding for environmental testing and cleanup work in neighborhoods surrounding the now-shuttered plant, with the testing expected to cover about 10,000 properties.

There are three pieces of legislation on the governor’s desk that could help prevent future contamination or provide more money for cleanup.

One bill would increase maximum penalties to $70,000 a day for violators of hazardous waste laws; another would require the state to convene a lead advisory task force; and the third is aimed at forcing owners and operators of hazardous waste facility to submit permit renewals on time.

The Exide plant, which opened in 1922, was allowed to keep operating under a temporary permit for 33 years, despite continuing environmental violations. It was permanently closed in March 2015.

Supervisor Hilda Solis asked that the board consider a permanent blood testing facility in the area and provide related health services for residents in a 1.7-mile radius of the plant. Staffers were tasked with evaluating the feasibility of that plan.

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.

Lead Blood Testing Extended for Residents Near Exide

February 5, 2015 by · 3 Comments 

Since hearing that elevated levels of lead were found in soil at Salazar Park in unincorporated East Los Angeles, Reina Rodriguez says she rarely takes her 4-year old son there to play. And while she only lives a few blocks away, the young mother says she never knew that she and her family were eligible for free blood tests for lead, paid for by Exide Technologies in Vernon and administered by Los Angeles County health officials.

The blood-screening program, offered to east and southeast Los Angeles area residents who live near Exide’s battery recycling plant in Vernon, was to end Jan. 31, but County officials said Wednesday they will extend the program until the end of February.

Exide was found by state air pollution and toxic chemical regulators to have exposed as many as 110,000 people in the region to unhealthful, potentially cancerous and neurologically damaging levels of lead and arsenic.

According to county health officials, since testing started in April 2014, only 500 of the estimated 30,000 people eligible have had their blood tested, despite 2,000 requests for the testing form.

A young child runs around at Salazar Park, one of the locations near Exide tested for lead and arsenic. (EGP photo by Nancy Martinez)

A young child runs around at Salazar Park, one of the locations near Exide tested for lead and arsenic. (EGP photo by Nancy Martinez)

To date, none of the results have required medical intervention, according to public health officials, who are still analyzing the last tests administered. Those results will be mailed directly to residents.

The administration and value of the testing has been questioned by a number of people concerned about the community’s exposure to toxic chemical emissions from the Exide plant.

Some people have accused the County of not doing enough outreach to the public and of not making the testing more accessible.

Boyle Heights resident Doelorez Mejia is one of those following the Exide issue closely, and she told EGP she does not trust the screening program. “We all know lead is in our communities, it’s in our soil,” adding that results from the blood test would only distract from the community’s efforts to prove Exide has caused health problems in residents.

Exide agreed to pay for the confidential screenings administered by the County as part of their effort to remediate the fallout from the state regulators’ findings and backlash from community activists and elected officials, many who want the plant shut down permanently.

Nestor Valencia, mayor of nearby Bell, calls the blood screenings a “political stunt” and a “sham” that “would only benefit them [Exide] to say, ‘see nobody has lead in their bodies.’”

Many residents EGP spoke with said they do not believe blood testing is the appropriate way to determine chronic exposure to toxic chemicals such as lead.

According to Joseph R. Landolph Jr., Associate Professor of Molecular Microbiology, Immunology, and Pathology at USC’s Keck School of Medicine, lead only stays in the blood for 30 days before it breaks down.

Although blood testing is the standard form of determining exposure the lead, it actually stays in a person’s bones for up to 20 years, Landolph said. In adults, 90 percent of lead is found in bones, he told EGP.  Because it stays in the bones, pregnant women and those undergoing menopause are prone to reabsorbing the lead, he explained.

“All the [test] would say is that lead is in your blood,” Landolph said.

Once lead is found, the county would have to determine exposure by looking at the individuals surrounding and “assume everything is a contribution in proportion to how much they put out,” he added.

That is why Teresa Marquez of Boyle Heights did not get tested. She told EGP the test was “not worth the trouble,” especially since any alleged exposure from Exide may be gone since the plant was closed in March 2014 to make facility improvements.

“It’s too little too late,” she said. “Why don’t they test finger nails that show contamination of arsenic for a period of years?”

Marquez believes the County and Exide do not want to spend the higher cost of arsenic testing, which would ultimately do a better job of show what damage has been done.

However, Landolph, who is a member of the USC/Norris Comprehensive Cancer Center and an expert in arsenic, told EGP arsenic only lives in the blood for 10 hours.

He did say, however, that concentrations from chronic exposure could be found in fingernails and hair. One indication, he said, could be white bands on fingernails.

Exide had not responded to EGP’s request for comment as of press time.

County officials told EGP there are no plans to conduct arsenic testing. They add that such testing would only be appropriate for acute arsenic poisoning not chronic, long-term exposure.

They focused on lead because only elevated levels of lead, not arsenic, were found in the area.

For most residents, the value of the tests is not what kept them from seeking the screenings. Instead, they simply did not know about the free blood testing program.

Lifelong East Los Angeles resident Alice Gallardo, 80, said the testing information was not readily available to the community.

“Nobody came to us,” she said.

She added that the process would have been easier if the county went to local senior centers and parks to inform the public.

“If you didn’t already know about Exide you wouldn’t know about the testing,” agreed Mejia. “How is the average person supposed to know?”

Public health officials are defending their outreach.

In an email, a spokesman for the department of public health’s environmental health division told EGP the County mailed out flyers with instructions on how to get tested to the 30,000 area residents in the impacted area in April 2014 and again a couple months ago.

They also held town halls in Commerce and Maywood in April 2014, and gave progress updates at a couple community meetings held at Resurrection Church.

County officials told EGP public health nurses conducted door-to-door campaigns in the neighborhoods surrounding Exide and conducted outreach with area schools.

Marena Vallejo of Boyle Heights said she found the information about the tests and where to take it “confusing.”

Lucia Sandoval was at Salazar Park earlier this week with her grandson. The park is located a mile from the Exide plant in Vernon.

Speaking in Spanish, she told EGP, “If I didn’t know about it and didn’t get tested” how would he get tested, she said referring to her grandson.

State regulators ordered Exide to pay for the removal of contaminated soil at Salazar Park and to establish a $ 9 million fund for the clean up of other contaminated sites.

Marquez insists the testing program could have been better handled. If the county really wanted to inform the public, they would have held a health fair and offered testing on a weekend to make it easier for the blue-collar community, she said.

In the absence of any significant outreach, extending the testing deadline may not do much to raise the number of people tested, however.

“They [county] didn’t do enough because they didn’t want to do enough for our community,” said Mayor Valencia. “I think because they knew it was a waste of time.”

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