Veterans Park Remains Closed for Lead Abatement

March 9, 2017 by · Leave a Comment 

Fearing residents could be exposed to unsafe levels of lead, a park in Commerce has been closed until the city can assess the impact recent heavy rains have had on the facility.

When Veterans Park will reopen is unclear. The park was closed Feb. 17 amid concerns that lead and asbestos may have spread from the park’s community center during the latest series of storms. City officials said the facility would remain closed “until further notice.”

The park’s playground and picnic areas have been already tested and “show lead levels to be within acceptable thresholds,” according to a city statement.

The baseball field was also recently tested but those results are not expected to be available for a few more days.

The industrial city is no stranger to fears over lead. Portions of the city are within the 1.7-mile radius that is currently being tested for lead contamination by the nearby Exide battery recycling plant in Vernon.

Veterans Park on Zindell Avenue, however, is outside the Exide impact zone, and the lead there is from the now closed James W. Bristow Marksmanship Range.

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A sign warns Commerce residents that Veterans Park is closed to the public. (EGP photo by Nancy Martinez).

The decades-old shooting range was closed and sealed-off in 2010 when it was learned that lead from bullets fired there had made its way to nearby areas, putting people at risk of lead exposure.

It was not until last year, however, that the city council authorized the full demolition and abatement of the shooting range, located inside the Veterans Park community center, the same location where a variety of other programs and recreational activities are housed.

The remediation process has been underway since January and the city says contractors are now in the process of removing paint chips from the building’s exterior and sealing its facades.

The city said the park will stay closed at it evaluates the impact of recent rain and progress of the cleanup. Nearby residential yards will also be tested, according to the city.

In the meantime, youth basketball gamed has been relocated to different parks, a cross fit class has been moved to Rosewood Park and a pre-school program has been moved to Bristow Park. The city is also in the process of securing temporary bungalows to house some park services and activities once testing is complete.

From Lead to Pipelines, Students Hone Research Skills

September 15, 2016 by · Leave a Comment 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lead Found at LAUSD Schools

August 25, 2016 by · Leave a Comment 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Locals Train for Jobs In Exide Cleanup

July 28, 2016 by · 1 Comment 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

win-win situation.

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

Exide Complaints Go On Record

July 14, 2016 by · Leave a Comment 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Public Input Being Sought for Exide EIR

July 7, 2016 by · Leave a Comment 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Few Attend Exide Meeting On Residential Cleanup Plan

June 30, 2016 by · Leave a Comment 

East and southeast Los Angeles County residents had an opportunity Saturday to have a say in the process to decontaminate their homes and other properties tainted with lead from the now shuttered Exide plant in Vernon, in what is expected to be California’s largest cleanup effort ever.

However, while more than 100,000 people may have been put at risk from the toxic exposure, only about a dozen people showed up to the first meeting where their comments on how to go about removing the contamination from their homes would actually be on the record.

Lea este artículo en Español: Pocos Residentes Asisten a Reunión de Limpieza Residencial de Exide

For some residents, Saturday’s meeting at Raul R. Perez Memorial Park in Huntington Park was the first Exide-related meeting they had ever attended. For others, it was the first time they would hear that their homes and families could possibly be in danger from exposure to cancer-causing arsenic and lead.

Lucia Kikunaga of Maywood told officials from the Department of Toxic Substance Control she was stunned when she received the mailer informing her of the meeting and that there could possibly be toxic chemicals in her home.

Kikunaga’s revelation was surprising given that there have been dozens of meetings and hearings over the last two years regarding the health hazard caused by the battery recycling plan in Vernon. Hundreds of hours of testimony and protests have taken place to date.

Of the handful of residents who spoke Saturday, a majority expressed concern over what they claim is a lack of outreach to their community.

“Public outreach is a key component in our efforts to keep the community informed about the Exide cleanup,” DTSC Spokesman Sandy Nax told EGP, responding to the criticism. “We use a variety of methods to communicate in both English and Spanish.”

The state agency has sent out thousands of postcards, canvassed neighborhoods, set up drop-in information centers, a hotline and used social media to reach out to residents in the impacted areas, he added.

Yet, Kikunaga wasn’t the only person at the meeting to say they were unaware of the Exide catastrophe or efforts to clean up the aftermath.

An Exide scoping meeting was held in Huntington Park Saturday Very few residents were in attendance. (EGP photo by Nancy Martinez)

An Exide scoping meeting was held in Huntington Park Saturday Very few residents were in attendance. (EGP photo by Nancy Martinez)

“I always knew there was major pollution in our communities because we live in an industrial area, but this is very serious,” longtime Maywood resident Zoila Flores said in disbelief.
DTSC plans to test the soil of 10,000 properties within 1.7-miles of the Exide plant and to clean the 2,500 homes with the highest levels of lead by July 2018. Under the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA), before cleanup can begin DTSC must prepare an environmental impact report that will disclose the potential effects of mitigation efforts such as soil removal and transporting tainted material away from properties in Bell, Boyle Heights, Commerce, East Los Angeles, Huntington Park and Vernon.

On Saturday, it was clear that residents like Leonor Casillas still need basic information before they can begin to give input into what the cleanup process should look like.

Casillas told DTSC staff she had no idea there could be lead in the backyard of her Maywood home. She’s worried there may be a correlation with her husband’s cancer.

“What are the health impacts? And what else is going on in our area,” she asked Saturday.
DTSC, the lead regulatory agency charged with the cleanup, has already tested more than 2,000 homes and cleaned up over 200 homes within the preliminary investigation area, according to the agency. Residents from surrounding areas have repeatedly asked that DTSC expand the area where they are testing properties for lead, claiming the danger is much wider spread.

A second meeting to gather input from the public will be held today, June 30 at 6:30p.m at Commerce City Hall.

The EIR process, which involves public review, meetings and hearings, is expected to be completed around July 2017, a timeline state officials call “aggressive.” EIRs tend to take at least a year and a half, says DTSC’s Kimberly Hudson.

“It is common to extend the public review period,” she added, meaning the process could go longer if community members feel more input is required.

In the meantime, Flores told DTSC they should not forget about impacted areas like Maywood, just because it’s home to a large Latino and undocumented population,

“With so much effort we have been paying for our homes,” she said about the struggle to buy a home. “When it comes to selling our homes, what is going to happen,” she asked, worried the contamination could cause her home value to drop.

“Some of us are scared because we don’t know what the cleanup process is and we don’t want our properties taken from us,” echoed Manuel Borjas, referring to the fear among some residents that the process could lead to them losing their homes through eminent domain or being forced to leave their homes for a long period.

DTSC officials, however, assured Borjas and others in the room that the cleanup process takes less than 5 days and homes would not be damaged or taken through eminent domain.

“Well I don’t see any of that in your packet,” responded Borjas. “That is very important information for the people in my community who are not here because they are scared,” he said.

Looking around the room and seeing so few residents present, Kikunaga told EGP that residents must to do their part to hold the state accountable.

“I know nuestra raza, I tried to encourage my neighbors to attend and some just don’t care.”

Public Blasts DTSC at State Committee Hearing

June 16, 2016 by · Leave a Comment 

When the Assembly Committee on Environmental Safety and Toxic Materials first held a hearing on the decontamination of the now shuttered Exide Technologies facility, eastside residents made a turnaround trip to the Capitol where they demanded state legislators step up and push for funds needed to address the cleanup. Five months later, with $176.6 million now set aside by Gov. Brown for the cleanup effort, it was the Committee’s turn to pay residents, which they did last week, holding their meeting not far from the Vernon plant.

As is customary, officials from the state, county and city of Los Angeles updated the committee on their respective cleanup efforts and community outreach. But residents who live in East Los Angeles, Boyle Heights, Commerce, Maywood, Vernon and Huntington Park – areas believed to be contaminated with lead and arsenic – told the committee that those reports were not giving legislators a full picture of what’s really going on.

Boyle Heights Neighborhood Council President Vera Del Pozo said she was tired of hearing officials and DTSC go talk about things the community has heard repeatedly.

“Stop telling us what you’ve done and just clean this up now,” she said, prompting applause from the audience.

One after another, residents renewed their calls for a quicker, more efficient remediation process, starting with a cleanup plan they said should have already been completed.

“There are many ongoing and serious problems that need to be addressed,” said Gladys Limon, staff attorney at Communities for a Better Environment during the assembly committee’s meeting at Roosevelt High School.

Under the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA), the Department of Toxic Substance Control (DTSC) must prepare an Environmental Impact Report (EIR) for the approval of the cleanup plan. The agency, charged with overseeing the investigation and remediation of the 1.7-mile preliminary investigation area, is soliciting input from the public before drafting the cleanup plan.

The public comment period begins June 16 and will continue for 30 days, ending July 18. Once the draft impact report is completed the public will have 45 days to review the document and provide comments that will be used to prepare the final report. Two scoping meetings to gather public comment are planned for June 25 at Perez Park in Huntington Park and June 30 at Commerce City Hall.

 Students from Bell Gardens High School attend a public hearing held June 9 at Roosevelt High School, where dozens of residents called for greater oversight of the Exide cleanup. (EGP photo by Nancy Martinez)

Students from Bell Gardens High School attend a public hearing held June 9 at Roosevelt High School, where dozens of residents called for greater oversight of the Exide cleanup. (EGP photo by Nancy Martinez)

DTSC Director Barbara Lee explained that under the current CEQA timeline, cleanup, which could end up being the largest in the state’s history, would not begin until June 2017.

Jane Williams, executive director of California Communities Against Toxics, urged legislators to force DTSC to expand the investigation area to 4.5 miles, a demand repeated by dozens of residents living just outside the zone.

“We’re leaving people behind,” Williams stressed.

Roosevelt student Michael Valencia said he lives two blocks from the meeting site, yet his home and the school itself are outside the preliminary cleanup area.

Dr. Brian Johnston, chair of emergency medicine at White Memorial, asked that the agency do more soil sampling beyond the 1.7 miles. He cited a 2010 study conducted by the Air Quality Management District that stated Exide’s cloud of toxins could reach as far as Altadena and Palos Verdes.

Lee explained that results from soil samples collected as far as 4.5 miles from the Vernon plant led the agency to conclude lead emissions could have traveled 1.7 miles from the facility. She reminded the committee that the state’s multi-million loan can only be used to address remediation in that area.

Many residents, however, complained that the agency’s report was a repeat of an “infomercial” they’ve heard many times before, and even argued that DTSC lacks the expertise to carry out the cleanup.

“[The problem] is bigger than what they’re trying to paint,” said a frustrated Joe Gonzalez.

Assemblywoman Cristina Garcia, who sat in for committee members unable to attend, said that many of the community’s complaints are valid.

“We need to expand the area,” she told EGP. “We definitely need to do that.”

Assemblyman Miguel Santiago, who also sat in on the committee, told EGP he expects the committee to include what was discussed at last week’s meeting in an end of the year report on all the hearings.

“This is one more example of us being more inclusive,” Santiago said. “It demonstrates legislators are taking this seriously, putting pressure and holding DTSC accountable.”

Garcia told EGP she plans to use the public testimony to ask the agency better questions.

“We get regular updates from DTSC but it is through their eyes and their perspective,” she said.

L.A. County Supervisor Hilda Solis reminded legislators that more funds would be required to not only decontaminate the area but to also educate the community about the dangers of lead exposure, known to cause neurological diseases, learning disabilities, cancer and other serious health problems.

“This can’t happen again,” Solis said of the contamination. “There needs to be an investigation.”

Lee defended herself and the agency, reminding the committee and the public that in April 2013 Exide was ordered to suspend operations and in March 2015, months after she took over as director, the plant was forced to close permanently.

Since then, 1,800 homes have been sampled, 3,400 access agreements have been signed and over 200 homes have been decontaminated, she said, adding DTSC currently samples 135 properties a week but expects to increase to 200 per week in the coming month.

“We have much to do but we have made progress,” said Lee.

In the minority, one resident thanked the agency for cleaning her East Los Angeles home. But most residents felt their demands and frustration were justified.

“Just because we are asking for more doesn’t mean we don’t acknowledge what you have already done,” said Boyle Heights resident Irene Peña.

Mark Lopez, executive director of East Yard Communities for Environmental Justice, told EGP the group encountered problems while working with the agency to gather access agreements, an effort they do not plan to continue.

“We have had to push every step of the way to get to the point we are at now,” he said. “It is time for DTSC to step up and accept the challenge to do better.”

El Público Arremete Contra DTSC en una Reunión del Comité del Estado

June 16, 2016 by · Leave a Comment 

Cuando el Comité de la Asamblea sobre Seguridad Medioambiental y Materiales Tóxicos realizó por primera vez una audiencia sobre la descontaminación de la instalación Exide Technologies ahora cerrada, los residentes del Este se volcaron hacía el Capitolio donde exigieron a los legisladores del estado avancen y exijan los fondos necesarios para hacer frente a la limpieza.

Cinco meses después, con $ 176,6 millones apartados por el gobernador Brown para el esfuerzo de limpieza, fue el turno del comité para pagar a los residentes, lo cual hicieron la semana pasada, llevando a cabo su reunión no muy lejos de la planta de Vernon.

Read this article in English: Public Blasts DTSC at State Committee Hearing 

Como es habitual, los funcionarios del estado, condado y ciudad de Los Ángeles actualizaron al comité sobre sus respectivos trabajos de limpieza y alcance a la comunidad. Pero los residentes que viven en el Este de Los Ángeles, Boyle Heights, Commerce, Maywood, Vernon y Huntington Park—áreas que se cree están contaminados con plomo y arsénico—dijeron al comité que esos informes no estaban dando a los legisladores una imagen completa de lo que realmente está pasando.

Vera Del Pozo, presidenta de la Junta de Vecinos de Boyle Heights, dijo que estaba cansada de escuchar a los funcionarios y el DTSC ir a hablar acerca de las cosas que la comunidad ha escuchado en repetidas ocasiones.

“Ya dejen de decirnos lo que han hecho y solo limpien esto ahora”, dijo, lo que provocó los aplausos del público.

Uno tras otro, los residentes renovaron sus llamados para un proceso de remediación más rápido, más eficiente, comenzando con un plan de limpieza que dijeron ya debería haber sido completado.

“Están pasando muchos problemas graves que necesitan ser abordados”, dijo Gladys Limón, abogada de Comunidades para un Mejor Ambiente en la reunión del comité de la asamblea en la preparatoria Roosevelt.

Bajo la Ley de Calidad Ambiental de California (CEQA), el Departamento de Control de Sustancias Tóxicas (DTSC) debe preparar un Informe de Impacto Ambiental (EIR) para la aprobación del plan de limpieza. La agencia encargada de supervisar la investigación y remediación del área de investigación preliminar de 1.7 millas, está solicitando la opinión del público antes de elaborar el plan de limpieza.

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Un residente de Commerce demanda un que haya revisión sobre la limpieza de Exide durante la reunión pública del 9 de juno.

El período de comentarios públicos comienza hoy 16 de junio y continuará durante 30 días, terminando el 18 de julio. Una vez que el proyecto de informe de impacto esté completado el público tendrá 45 días para revisar el documento y formular observaciones que se utilizarán para preparar el informe final. Se prevén dos reuniones de alcance para recopilar comentarios públicos para el 25 de junio en el Parque Pérez en Huntington Park y el 30 de junio en el ayuntamiento de Commerce.

La directora de DTSC Barbara Lee explicó que bajo la línea de tiempo actual de la CEQA, la limpieza que podría llegar a ser la más grande en la historia del estado, no comenzaría hasta junio de 2017.

Jane Williams, directora ejecutiva de Comunidades de California contra Tóxicos, instó a los legisladores para obligar a DTSC para ampliar el área de investigación a 4,5 millas, una demanda repetida por las docenas de residentes que viven fuera de la zona.

“Estamos dejando a gente atrás”, destacó Williams.

El Dr. Brian Johnston, presidente de medicina de emergencia en el White Memorial, pidió a la agencia que haga muestras de suelo más allá de las 1,7 millas. Él citó un estudio de 2010 realizado por el Distrito de Administración de la Calidad del Aire que declaró que la nube de toxinas de Exide podría llegar tan lejos como Altadena y Palos Verdes.

Lee explicó que los resultados de muestras de suelo recogidas hasta 4.5 millas de distancia de la planta de Vernon llevaron a la conclusión que las emisiones de plomo podrían haber viajado a 1,7 millas de la instalación. Ella le recordó al comité de préstamo de varios millones del estado sólo puede ser utilizado para abordar la reparación en esa zona.

Muchos residentes, sin embargo, se quejaron de que el informe de la agencia fue una repetición de un “anuncio informativo” que han escuchado muchas veces antes, e incluso argumentaron que DTSC carece de la experiencia necesaria para llevar a cabo la limpieza.

“[El problema] es más grande que lo que están tratando de pintar” dijo frustrado Joe González.

La asambleísta Cristina García, que estaba representando a los miembros del comité que no pudieron asistir, dijo que muchas de las quejas de la comunidad son válidas.

“Tenemos que ampliar la zona”, dijo a EGP. “Definitivamente necesitamos hacer eso”.

García le dijo a EGP que planea usar el testimonio público para hacer mejores preguntas a la agencia.

“Recibimos actualizaciones regulares de DTSC pero es a través de sus ojos y su perspectiva”, dijo.

La supervisora del Condado de Los Ángeles Hilda Solís recordó a los legisladores que se necesitarían más fondos, no sólo para la descontaminación de la zona, pero también para educar a la comunidad sobre los peligros de la exposición al plomo, que se sabe causan enfermedades neurológicas, discapacidad, cáncer y otros problemas de salud graves de aprendizaje.

“Esto no puede volver a pasar”, dijo Solís de la contaminación. “Es necesario que haya una investigación”.

Lee se defendió y defendió a la agencia recordando a la comisión y al público que en abril de 2013 Exide recibió la orden para suspender las operaciones y en marzo de 2015, meses después de que ella se hizo cargo como directora, la planta se vio obligada a cerrar de forma permanente.

Desde entonces, 1.800 casas han sido examinadas, se han firmado 3.400 acuerdos de acceso y más de 200 casas han sido descontaminadas, dijo, añadiendo que DTSC actualmente examina 135 propiedades a la semana, pero espera que aumente a 200 por semana el próximo mes.

“Tenemos mucho que hacer, pero hemos avanzado”, dijo Lee.

En la minoría, un residente agradeció a la agencia para la limpieza de su casa en el Este de Los Ángeles. Pero la mayoría de los residentes sentían que sus demandas y frustración estaban justificadas.

Mark López, director ejecutivo de East Yard Communities  para la Justicia Ambiental, dijo a EGP que el grupo tuvo problemas al trabajar con la agencia para reunir los acuerdos de acceso, un esfuerzo que no planean continuar.

“Hemos tenido que empujar a cada paso del camino para llegar al punto en que nos encontramos ahora”, dijo. “Es hora de que el DTSC de la cara y acepte el reto de hacerlo mejor”.

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Twitter @nancyreporting

nmartinez@egpnews.com

Fee on Automobile Batteries Could Pay for Lead Cleanup

June 9, 2016 by · 1 Comment 

A California bill aimed at funding the cleanup of lead-contaminated communities like those surrounding the now-shuttered Exide battery recycling plant, could soon require consumers and manufactures to each pay a $1 fee for every lead-acid car battery sold in the state.

Under the Lead Acid Battery Recycling Act (AB 2153)—approved by the State Assembly last Friday—monies collected would be deposited into a fund to pay for cleanup efforts like those currently underway in Boyle Heights, East Los Angeles, Commerce, Maywood and Huntington Park, where as many as 10,000 homes may have been contaminated by the former lead smelter. Exposure to lead has been liked to cancer, birth defects and cognitive development issues in children, pregnant women and the elderly.

“The State Assembly is sending a clear message to residents in the affected communities that they do matter and we will no longer let them sit on poisoned soil,” the bill’s author Assemblywoman Cristina Garcia said.

For years, Exide Technologies recycled hundreds of lead-acid car batteries at its Vernon site, amassing dozens of hazardous waste violations in the process. One of just two such facilities west of the Rockies, Exide was found to have emitted emissions of arsenic and lead into the air and soil, exposing 110,000 east and southeast residents to cancer-causing toxins.

State officials estimate the cost to clean contaminated properties could be as high as $500 million, which Exide is responsible for paying for under an agreement with the .S. Attorney’s Office, but could take years to collect and in the end not cover the total cost.

If approved, Garcia estimates the new fee would raise up $70 million a year for the Lead-Acid Battery Cleanup Fund.

“It’s something we have been talking about for years,” said Mark Lopez, executive director of East Yard Communities for Environmental Justice. “It is enough for all lead issues in California? No. But it’s a step in the right direction.”

Lead acid batteries sit on the shelf of Auto Supply in East Los Angeles; the retailer previously sold Exide brand batteries. (Courtesy of David Scher)

Lead acid batteries sit on the shelf of Auto Supply in East Los Angeles; the retailer previously sold Exide brand batteries. (Courtesy of David Scher)

David Scher, owner of Auto Supply in East Los Angeles, proudly sold Exide car batteries for years. Last year, after realizing the company “was not acting like a good corporate citizen,” Scher said he switched to a different vendor.

Scher told EGP he does not like the idea of customers paying upfront for the cleanup caused by corporate polluters.
“It shouldn’t have got to this point,” he said. “They are punishing the victims.”

Lead-acid car batteries range from $65 to $176 at the East L.A. business, but Scher does not believe the new fee will impact sales.

In an unprecedented move, Gov. Brown earlier this year approved a $176.6 million loan to help expedite and expand testing and cleanup of residential properties, schools, daycare centers and parks in the 1.7-mile radius surrounding the battery recycling plant.

The funds collected from the fee would be used to re-pay the multi-million dollar loan until funds are recovered from Exide or any other responsible parties.

Assemblyman Miguel Santiago, the bill’s co-author, explains the fund is a way for the state to “hope for the best but prepare for the worst.”

It creates a legal avenue for state dollars to be used to address environmental issues while the state goes after polluters.

“The Exide situation taught California that we were not prepared for something like this,” said Santiago, referring to what many believe is going to be the largest and most costly environmental cleanup in state history.

AB 2153 also requires battery manufacturers to incorporate a recycling symbol on the battery, informing consumers the product must be recycled properly. Those who don’t comply could be fined up to $1,000 per day’ those funds would also be deposited to the fund.

The senate version of the bill needs to be approved before it can move on to the governor, which state officials anticipate could happen by August. If signed by the governor, the new fee would take effect January 1, 2017.

“Exide continues to plague my backyard with the remnants of lead contamination,” Garcia said following the bill’s approval in the Assembly.

“This bill is extremely vital to ensure cleanup and bring relief to our communities.”

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