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.”

 

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

July 28, 2016 by · Leave a Comment 

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tight Control of Power Needed to Avoid Summer Outages

May 19, 2016 by · Leave a Comment 

Power reserves will be adequate to keep lights on and air conditioners running during the hot summer months across California, according to a report released Wednesday by the state’s electrical grid operator, which noted some “deft management” will be needed in Southern California due to a natural gas shortage.

Officials with the California Independent System Operator noted that despite the shortage caused by the massive Aliso Canyon storage facility gas leak in Porter Ranch, the agency has taken steps to limit the possibility of electrical-service interruptions.

“The natural gas issues facing Southern California this summer will require deft management, particularly during hot days when power plants fueled by natural gas are needed to meet peak demand,” Cal-ISO CEO/President Steve Berberich said. “The ISO has moved quickly to put into place new mechanisms to reduce the impact of gas curtailments on electric reliability. We are also
asking consumers to respond to calls for energy conservation on days we call a Flex Alert.”

In April, a Cal-ISO power-reliability assessment concluded that the area’s natural gas shortage attributable to the leak could lead to power outages on as many as 14 days in the greater Los Angeles area. The report noted that natural gas is used to power electrical plants that “play a central role meeting regional electrical demand,” and the limited operations at Aliso Canyon “create a distinct possibility of electricity service interruptions in the coming summer months.”

Some critics blasted the report as an effort to push for a faster re-start of full operations at Aliso Canyon.
Southern California Gas Co. officials, meanwhile, said they would be working with various regulatory agencies “to provide a continued supply of dependable gas and electric services in the region.”

The Cal-ISO assessment released Wednesday outlines a series of technical steps the agency has taken to prepare for possible gas shortages and threats to electrical reliability. It notes that although the gas shortage is an issue, the chance of a power outage on any given day “would depend on local constrained conditions within Southern California as well as the extent to which the transmission system and available supply is capable of absorbing gas curtailment in real time.”

According to the report, Cal-ISO “is increasing its operational coordination with SoCalGas as well as (the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power) to increase awareness of changing operational conditions and be ready to act appropriately to mitigate risks to gas and electric reliability.”

The Aliso Canyon gas leak was discovered Oct. 23 and was capped on Feb. 18.

L.A. County Sets Up Strike Team to Oversee Oil Wells

March 31, 2016 by · Leave a Comment 

The Board of Supervisors voted unanimously Tuesday to set up a “strike team” to ensure that oil and gas wells in unincorporated areas of Los Angeles County are operating safely.

Supervisors Mark Ridley-Thomas and Hilda Solis say that regulations governing wells are inconsistent and it’s the county’s job to keep residents safe.

“We have spent too much time reacting to environmental crises, one catastrophe after another .. (including the) Athens Tank Farm, Aliso Canyon methane leak (and) Exide battery recycling facility,” Ridley-Thomas said. “We have a job to do and I think it’s ours to do.”

There are 1,687 oil and gas wells in unincorporated areas of the county, 95 percent of which are run by a dozen operators, according to a report by the Department of Regional Planning that relied on data from the state’s Division of Oil, Gas and Geothermal Resources.

Nearly 60 percent of those wells are part of the Inglewood Oil Field, which operates under a broad set of regulations that mandate air and groundwater monitoring, emergency response plans and other protocols. But the balance are subject to regulations that vary from site to site.

The strike team will be charged with evaluating the remaining wells and recommending additional oversight or operational changes needed to keep residents safe.

The board also asked its lawyers and land planners to update zoning codes to ensure that future oil and gas facilities do not operate “by right.”
Historically, where zoning has permitted this type of industrial use, operators haven’t had to pull any special permits before drilling.

“Drilling should not be allowed by right in any zone,” Ridley-Thomas said.

A Montebello resident told the board she was worried about how Southern California Gas. Co. officials were going about decommissioning a gas storage facility in her neighborhood.

Yvonne Watson, who is also a Sierra Club advocate, said the utility was unable to tell residents when it would finish shutting down the facility, which it first agreed to close in 2000.

“You don’t have anything to worry about, everything’s safe,” Watson said SoCalGas officials told community members in a presentation last week that she called “a joke.”

SoCalGas has stopped operating the Montebello gas storage facility and sealed a majority of the wells, but is still working to recover “cushion gas” that maintains pressure in the remaining wells.

“This is precisely why I co-authored this motion,” Solis said in response to Watson’s safety concerns.

Based on a suggestion by Supervisor Michael Antonovich, the county will also establish a five-member advisory panel of experts to work with the strike team.

Each supervisor is expected to appoint one member by May 1.

On Antonovich’s recommendation, the board also voted to send a letter to President Barack Obama, urging him to create a multi-agency task force led by the Energy Department to investigate the cause and effects of the Aliso Canyon gas leak in Porter Ranch.

Sens. Barbara Boxer and Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., proposed such a task force last week, asking that it also determine whether the facility can continue to operate safely.

SoCal Gas Responde a Preocupaciones Acerca de Su Instalación en Montebello

March 24, 2016 by · Leave a Comment 

Tila Gregorian ha vivido cerca de las instalaciones de SoCalGas en Montebello durante años y siempre se ha preocupado por la posibilidad de fugas de gas. Cuando se enteró de las miles de familias que viven cerca de las instalaciones del almacenamiento de Aliso Canyon que se han enfermado y han sido desplazadas de sus hogares por una fuga de gas en esa instalación temporal, sus preocupaciones crecieron.

“Siempre ha sido una inquietud, pero ahora que sabemos lo que puede suceder se confirma nuestra preocupación”, dijo Gregorian.

Read this article in English: SoCal Gas Responds to Concerns About Montebello Facility

Con la esperanza de aliviar temores de los funcionarios de la ciudad y los residentes, SoCalGas estaba programada para hacer una presentación pública al ayuntamiento sobre el estado de sus instalaciones en Montebello el miércoles después de la hora del cierre de EGP para salir a prensa.

La instalación está ubicada en 831 Howard Ave y está rodeada por casas que componen la comunidad residencial Racquet Mountain.

De acuerdo con la empresa de servicios públicos, la instalación ya no se utiliza para almacenar el gas y esta en la etapa final para ser dada de baja. Sin embargo, en los 48 pozos que aún están activos, “el aceite se extrae para eliminar el gas amortiguado en función del proceso de desmantelamiento”, la compañía de servicios públicos le dijo a EGP.

“Aliso Canyon es un campo de almacenamiento de inyección-extracción de gas activo”, explicó SoCalGas en un correo electrónico, mientras que “Montebello ya no es un almacenamiento de gas y se encuentra en proceso de desmantelamiento”, dijo la compañía.

La instalación de SoCal Gas en Montebello esta en el proceso de ser desmantelada. (EGP foto por Nancy Martínez)

La instalación de SoCal Gas en Montebello esta en el proceso de ser desmantelada. (EGP foto por Nancy Martínez)

“En el 2000, SoCalGas presentó documentos ante la Comisión de Servicios Públicos de California (CPUC) para desmantelar las instalaciones. En 2001, la CPUC aprobó la solicitud de desmantelamiento de las instalaciones” y 280 pozos en el lugar ya se han cerrado de forma permanente, de acuerdo con SoCalGas.

Las instalaciones en Montebello y Aliso Canyon pueden ser mundos aparte en la forma en que operan actualmente, pero para algunos residentes de la zona, la tranquilidad no vendrá hasta que el proceso de desmantelamiento este completo y Montebello sea asegurado de que no habrá riesgo de fugas de gas.

“No voy a creer lo que dicen hasta que tengamos pruebas independientes verificando que no hay gas almacenado”, Margot Eiser, activista ambiental local, le dijo a EGP.

Dijo que estaba preocupada por la instalación de Montebello incluso antes de que se supo la noticia de la fuga de gas en Porter Ranch, que muchos creen que fue el resultado de las regulaciones de mantenimiento insuficientes.

“Estamos hablando de algo muy volátil, muy tóxico”, dijo. “Las empresas tienen que estar más preocupadas por la seguridad que por los beneficios”.

Linda Nicklas le dijo a EGP que los residentes se sentirían más seguros si SoCalGas instalara cámaras de luz infrarroja en el sitio como lo hicieron en Porter Ranch después que se detuvo la fuga de gas para demostrar que no hay fugas en Montebello. Si la utilidad pública de verdad tiene en mente la salud de los residentes, van a establecer un sistema de alerta para notificarles en caso de una fuga, aseveró.

“La compañía de gas se ahorrará dinero a largo plazo”, dijo Nicklas, señalando los millones que le ha costado a SoCalGas para hacer frente a la fuga en Aliso Canyon.

El proceso de desmantelamiento ha estado sucediendo desde hace 15 años. Una vez que se retira el gas amortiguado, los representantes de SoCalGas le dijeron a EGP que la empresa de utilidades planea salvar el equipo en el lugar, abandonar los pozos de manera permanente y potencialmente considerar la venta del sitio.

“Se debió haber tomado de 2 a 3 años, no 15 años”, dijo Yvonne Watson, un miembro de Sierra Club y residente por mucho tiempo de Montebello.

Watson dijo que ha estado monitoreando el estado del sitio de Montebello ya que fue convertido en una instalación de almacenamiento de gas en 1958. Según Watson, la instalación tenía un historial de fugas de gas cuando estaba en funcionamiento.

“No nos han proporcionado una evidencia concreta o un calendario de cierre definitivo”, se quejó Watson.

“Cuando no escuchas nada de la compañía de gas, a excepción de lo que está pasando en Porter Ranch, simplemente no inspira confianza”.

De acuerdo con SoCalGas, el incidente de Aliso Canyon no ha dado lugar a “preguntas de nuestros vecinos Montebello”, e históricamente la compañía ha tenido un registro consistente de abordar las preocupaciones ocasionales de los residentes con respecto a mantenimiento estética y el ruido de inmediato.

SoCalGas hace hincapié en que la instalación en el área de Racquet Mountain no está siendo utilizada para almacenar o producir gas natural, explicando que hay “cero capacidad de almacenamiento de gas en la instalación de Montebello”.

“Hay una gran cantidad de respuestas que se nos tiene que dar”, dijo Gregorian, quien planeó asistir a la presentación de SoCal Gas el miércoles.

“¿Qué tanto podemos creer sin supervisión, no lo sé”.

—-

Twitter @nancyreporting

nmartinez@egpnews.com

SoCal Gas Responds to Concerns About Montebello Facility

March 24, 2016 by · Leave a Comment 

Tila Gregorian has lived near the SoCalGas facility in Montebello for years and has always worried about the possibility of gas leaks. When she heard about the thousands of families living near the Aliso Canyon storage facility sickened and temporarily displaced from their homes by a gas leak at that facility, her worries grew.

“It has always been a concern, but now that we know what can happen it’s confirmed our worries,” Gregorian said.

Hoping to ease fears and concerns of city officials and residents, SoCalGas was scheduled to make a public presentation on the status of its facility in Montebello to the city council Wednesday, after EGP’s press time.

Lea este artículo en Español: SoCal Gas Responde a Preocupaciones Acerca de su Instalación en Montebello

The facility is located at 831 Howard Ave and is surrounded by homes that make up the residential community of Racquet Mountain.

According to the utility company, the facility is no longer used to store gas and is in the final stages of being decommissioned. However, at the 48 still active wells, “oil is being extracted to remove the cushion gas as a function of the decommissioning process,” the utility company told EGP.

“Aliso Canyon is an active gas injection-withdrawal storage field,” explained SoCalGas in an email, while “Montebello is no longer a gas storage and is in the process of decommissioning,” the company said.

“In 2000, SoCalGas filed with the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) to decommission the facility. In 2001, the CPUC approved the request to decommission the facility,” and 280 wells at the site have already been permanently sealed, according to SoCal Gas.

The Montebello and Aliso Canyon facilities may be worlds apart in how they currently operate, but for some residents of the area, peace of mind won’t come until the decommission process is complete and Montebello is assured there is no more risk of gas leaks.

“I won’t believe what they say until we have independent testing verifying there is no gas being stored,” Margot Eiser, a local environmental activist, told EGP.

 The SoCalGas facility in Montebello is in the process of being decommissioned. (EGP photo by Nancy Martinez)

The SoCalGas facility in Montebello is in the process of being decommissioned. (EGP photo by Nancy Martinez)

Eiser said she was concerned about the Montebello facility even before news broke of the gas leak in Porter Ranch, which many believe was the result of insufficient maintenance regulations.

“We’re dealing with something very volatile, very toxic,” she said. “Companies need to be more concerned about safety than profits.”

Linda Nicklas told EGP residents would feel more at ease if SoCalGas would install infrared cameras at the site like they did in Porter Ranch after the gas leak there was finally stopped to prove there are no leaks in Montebello. If the public utility truly has the health of residents in mind, they’ll set up an alert system to notify resident if there is a leak, she said. “It will save the gas company money in the long run,” said Nicklas, pointing out the millions it cost SoCalGas to deal with the leak at Aliso Canyon.

The decommissioning process has been going on for 15 years. Once the cushion gas is removed, SoCalGas representatives tell EGP the utility company plans to salvage the equipment on the site, permanently abandon the wells and potentially consider selling the site.

“It should have taken 2 to 3 years, not 15 years,” said Yvonne Watson, a Sierra Club member and longtime Montebello Resident.
Watson said she has been monitoring the status of the Montebello site since it was converted to a gas storage facility in 1958.

According to Watson, the facility had a history of gas leaks when it was in operation.

“We have not been provided concrete evidence or a schedule of decommission,” Watson complained.

“When you don’t hear anything from the gas company, except for what is going on in Porter Ranch, it just doesn’t inspire confidence.”

According to SoCalGas, the Aliso Canyon incident has not resulted in “questions from our Montebello neighbors,” and historically the company has had a consistent record of addressing occasional concerns from residents regarding aesthetic upkeep and noise immediately.

SoCalGas emphasizes that the Racquet Mountain area facility is not being used to store or produce natural gas, explaining there is  “zero gas storage capacity of the Montebello facility.”

“There are a lot of answers that need to be given to us,” said Gregorian, who was planning to attend SoCal Gas’ presentation Wednesday to the council.

“How much of it we can believe without oversight, I don’t know.”

Another Call for Leadership and Justice In Exide Cause

February 4, 2016 by · Leave a Comment 

We’re disappointed but not surprised that some of our readers do not agree with our editorial last week in this newspaper criticizing the different standards exhibited by government officials regarding the Porter Ranch gas leak and the Exide contamination.

EGP never said or implied that the Porter Ranch contamination is not a serious issue deserving of the aggressive intervention and attention it is now receiving.

Rather, our criticism is of the governmental regulatory agencies and their bosses –namely the governor and elected officials from the city of Los Angeles right up to the State Senate and Assembly—who for years have failed to provide adequate funding and oversight to deal with the fallout of Exide’s decades-long spewing of toxic levels of lead and arsenic into the air and water in east and southeast Los Angeles area cities and neighborhoods.

On Jan. 28, the Independent Review Panel created to look into the California Department of Toxic Substance Control released it’s first report on its findings and it highlighted numerous concerns with how the agency handles the permitting of hazardous waste facilities.

Chief among the panel’s concerns is the backlog of expired permits for facilities still in business; the agency’s projected shortfall in funding to remediate contaminated sites where the polluter is no longer available to pay for the clean up, and the agency losing this June 14 staff members whose job it is to recoup decontamination costs — something the agency already has a poor record of achieving.

We understand the Porter Ranch residents fear for their families’ health these past four months. It’s the same fear families in Flint Michigan have about the lead in their water, which prompted their governor to under pressure issue a state of emergency.

It’s the same fear many have about the lead from Exide in their homes – where after years of violations, hearings, and untold hours of public testimony, there still has not been a state of emergency issued.

Exide area residents have endured exposure to lead, arsenic and other toxic chemicals, which  health experts and scientists have testified pose a myriad of health problems, including a higher risk of cancer.

We believe no one, no matter where they live, should be exposed to environmental contamination and that there should not be a double standard when it comes to how our government responds to environmental injustices.

EGP will continue to shine a light on the double standard taking place in East Los Angeles, Boyle Heights, Commerce, Maywood, Vernon and Huntington Park: It’s the right thing to do.

Exide, Porter Ranch: A Double Standard

January 14, 2016 by · 1 Comment 

The complaints of headaches, bloody noses and asthma by Porter Ranch residents sound all to familiar to eastside activists who’ve spent years fighting their own large scale local environmental health hazard.

So are the demands for government officials to immediately shut down Southern California Gas Co.’s natural gas storage facilities near Porter Ranch that residents blame for their health crisis.

Lea este artículo en Español: Exide, Porter Ranch; Un Doble Estándar

Strikingly different, however, has been the response from state regulators and elected officials – including Gov. Jerry Brown –who for years failed to take the same level of bold action to stop Vernon-based Exide Technologies from putting the lives of thousands of east and southeast working class, predominately Latino residents at risk.

Money, race and political power are at the root of the inequity, activists claim.

Armed with high-powered attorneys, residents in Porter Ranch are demanding the closure of SoCal Gas’ Aliso Canyon facility where a leak was discovered Oct. 23, leading to hundreds of complaints from residents about negative health effects and demands for the utility company to pay to relocate residents in the impacted area. In less than three months more than 2,000 residents have been relocated, schools have been shut down, students were moved and the company is expected to pay for the housing of pets and additional policing.

Residents from Boyle Heights to Commerce angrily protest Governor Brown’s silence on the Exide Technology pollution scandal during a red ribbon cutting ceremony he attended in November not far from the Vernon battery recycling plant. (EGP photo by Fred Zermeno)

Residents from Boyle Heights to Commerce angrily protest Governor Brown’s silence on the Exide Technology pollution scandal during a red ribbon cutting ceremony he attended in November not far from the Vernon battery recycling plant. (EGP photo by Fred Zermeno)

No one denies the seriousness of the problem in Porter Ranch, but east and southeast area residents and activists can’t help feeling there’s a double standard at play, especially when it comes to Gov. Brown who last week declared a State of Emergency in Porter Ranch after touring the Aliso Canyon facility and meeting with affected residents, something he’s failed to do in the Exide case.

His declaration allows the state to mobilize the necessary state personnel, equipment and facilities, and to waive any laws or regulations in place to deal with the environmental issue. It also gives the governor power to allocate emergency funding to fix the leak, which is expected to take three to four months to repair.

Boyle Heights resident Doelorez Mejia was pleased to see the quick call to action by the governor and state officials in Porter Ranch, but couldn’t help feeling the injustice of the situation.

“I’m disappointed our community was not considered as worthy for such swift protection,” she told EGP. “But sadly, I’m not surprised.”

She was referring to the years that pleas from residents living near the Exide acid-lead battery recycling plant were ignored. And the dozens of meetings where residents testified about the people – young and old – in their families with cancer, children with learning disabilities and other illnesses they say can be blamed on years of breathing in the toxic chemicals spewing from the Exide plant.

In 2013, air quality officials reported that Exide had violated toxic chemical emissions putting more than 110,000 east and southeast area residents at a higher-risk of cancer. Lead and arsenic had been found in the soil at nearby homes and at least one park.

It wasn’t the first time Exide had violated state standards on toxic emissions, nor would it be the last.
But unlike in Porter Ranch, demands around Exide went unheeded. Residents were not relocated, classes were not cancelled and the facility could not be closed despite operating for decades on a temporary permit issued by the California Department of Toxic Substance Control (DTSC).

Public outcry during dozens of community meetings, hearings and protest marches over their exposure to toxic levels of arsenic and lead – known to cause permanent neurological damage to children and pregnant woman – failed to force the closure of the facility. In fact, it took the U.S. Attorney’s Office stepping in and strong-arming Exide – with the threat of federal criminal charges – to agree to a negotiated permanent shut down in April 2015.

Testing and air emission modeling in the area now show that as many as two million people may be at an elevated risk for cancer and other health issues due to years of exposure to lead from the Exide plant. State toxic regulators now believe that upwards of 10,000 properties may need to be tested and decontaminated. So far, only 184 contaminated properties have been cleaned.

Exide was allowed to open adjacent to homes that had been in the area for generations. In Porter Ranch, city planners had allowed developers to build on vacant land next the Aliso Canyon facility, which had been there for decades.

Residentes afectados por Exide protestaron durante una ceremonia en noviembre donde asistió el gobernador Jerry Brown, quien no se ha pronunciado al respecto. (EGP foto por Fred Zermeno)

An appearance by Gov. Jerry Brown at the opening of a new hotel in Bell Gardens two months ago drew loud protests from activists angry that he has yet to speak out on the Exide Technologies pollution scandal. (Photo courtesy of East Yard Communities for Environmental Justice)

Boyle Heights resident Teresa Marquez acknowledges that both the Porter Ranch and Exide environmental hazards pose a threat to public health, but says she knew the response would be drastically different in Porter Ranch,  since even at the local level public officials have been more active in the Valley.

Boyle Heights is a neighborhood in the city of Los Angeles, Marquez pointed out, yet Mayor Eric Garcetti has not made an appearance at an Exide meeting or made public statements calling for a prompt response the way he has about the gas leak, she said disappointingly. Where’s the city attorney, who is now filing lawsuits to protect Porter Ranch residents?

“The key difference is money and white,” she said frankly. “And we’re just poor Latinos.”

Porter Ranch is a more affluent Los Angeles neighborhood located at the northwest edge of the San Fernando Valley. Its residents are mostly white, with a medium household income of over $120,000. In contrast, Exide’s contamination impacts the highly dense communities of Bell, Boyle Heights, Commerce, unincorporated East Los Angeles, Huntington Park, Maywood and Vernon; all home to mostly working class Latinos.

“I can’t help but wonder why the horrible disaster at Porter Ranch has captured so much attention, while the equally horrible disaster at Exide has captured so little,” Los Angeles County Board Supervisor Chair Hilda L. Solis told EGP in an emailed statement.

It was not until the facility was forced to close that eastside residents began to see elected officials take notice of their concerns, said Marquez. But even as they celebrated that victory many residents knew the challenge ahead was cleaning up the lead from dirt that to this day prevent children from playing in their own backyards.

“They wouldn’t dare relocate [Porter Ranch] families into our communities,” said Mark Lopez, executive director of East Yard Communities for Environmental Justice.

He told EGP their anger is not at Porter Ranch or its residents, but at the state and governor “who can be responsive but chose not to respond.”

“The gas leak should have been shut down last month, that being said, Exide should have been shut down decades ago.”

Late last year Brown attended a hotel opening in Bell Gardens, not far from Exide. Lopez and other eastside residents were also there, outside angrily protesting the governor’s silence on Exide. They carried signs and a 10-foot paper-mache effigy of Brown. Unlike in Porter Ranch, the governor has yet to visit communities impacted by Exide or publicly comment on the long-playing Exide environmental crisis, despite it now being called one of the largest public health disasters in the state’s history.

Gladys Limon, staff attorney for Communities for a Better Environment told EGP the governor’s and state agencies’ responses to the Porter Ranch catastrophe reveal a stark racial disparity in efforts to protect communities from health and safety risks caused by industrial operations.

“The state neglected the thousands of families in Southeast and East L.A. for decades, and the Governor to this day has failed to personally acknowledge the Exide health emergency and to meet with residents,” she said.

Former County Supervisor Gloria Molina told EGP that she continuously called the governor’s office to get him to take action, but never got a call back.

“The governor is totally uninterested,” she said, adding it may have something to do with the low number of registered voters in the area.

“He takes pride in being the environmental governor but he seems more interested in protecting trees than people,” Molina said.

Some environmental activists say they believe the governor’s response to the Aliso Canyon gas leak may be more in line with his commitment to be the world’s leader in reducing greenhouse emissions, than about health concerns.

Marquez said she was surprised to hear Brown had met with Porter Ranch residents.

“He hasn’t spoken to us,” she said. “I don’t know why he hasn’t taken similar action … he just simply doesn’t care about our community.”

EGP reached out to the governor to get his response to concerns by eastside residents that he has been indifferent to their plight, but, in keeping with the criticism from the community and elected officials, Brown again failed to personally comment on the situation. Instead he passed off our request to the Department of Toxic Substance Control, the state regulatory agency in charge of the cleanup, which has for years been strongly criticized for its handling of Exide.

“Protecting the community around the Exide Technologies facility in Vernon is a high priority for the Administration,” reads the response from DTSC spokesman Sandy Nax, who credited the governor for providing additional funding for the residential sampling and cleanups currently underway.

Bell Councilman Nestor Valencia told EGP he and other area residents have criticized DTSC for moving too slowly with soil sample tests and the clean up of properties.

“It goes to show the disparity of the southeast and East Los Angeles communities [compared] to other communities,” he said.

Residents just want the same response they saw in the Valley, Huntington Park Mayor Karina Macias told EGP. They want the same protocols for all communities, she said.

“Nobody should have to live under circumstances like that – where their health is impacted,” said Macias. “No offense to Porter Ranch but it’s unfortunate for us to not see such a response when we are talking about a toxic substance.”
Instead of hope, Mejia says the response by elected officials to the Porter Ranch disaster reaffirms what she already knew.

“They don’t care so much about our inner-city people. They don’t care about the industrial neighborhoods or the workers the way they do about wealthier communities.”

—-

Twitter @nancyreporting

nmartinez@egpnews.com

 

A version of this article was published by Eastern Group Publications in the January 14, 2016 print editions.

[Update 1:30p.m:] Added additional comments by residents.

Exide, Porter Ranch: Un Doble Estándar

January 14, 2016 by · 1 Comment 

Las quejas de dolores de cabeza, sangrado por la nariz y asma por parte de residentes de Porter Ranch suenan muy familiares para activistas del Este de Los Ángeles quienes han estado luchando por años contra su propio peligro a gran escala de salud ambiental local.

Igualmente lo son las demandas de los funcionarios del gobierno para cerrar de inmediato las instalaciones de almacenamiento de gas natural de Southern California Gas Co. cerca de Porter Ranch que los residentes culpan por su crisis de salud.

Read this article in English: Exide, Porter Ranch; A Double Standard

Sin embargo, la respuesta por parte de los reguladores estatales y funcionarios electos –incluyendo al gobernador Jerry Brown–ha sido sorprendentemente diferente, puesto que por años fallaron en tomar el mismo tipo de medidas audaces para detener Exide Technologies con sede en Vernon por poner en riesgo las vidas de miles de personas de bajos ingresos del este y sureste de Los Ángeles, en su mayoría latinos.

El dinero, la etnia y el poder político son la raíz de la desigualdad, afirman activistas.

Armados con abogados de alto poder, los residentes en Porter Ranch están exigiendo el cierre de las instalaciones de SoCal Gas en Aliso Canyon, donde una fuga fue descubierta el 23 de octubre, lo que llevó a cientos de quejas de los residentes acerca de los efectos negativos para la salud y demandas para que la empresa de servicios públicos pague la reubicación de los residentes en la zona afectada. En menos de tres meses más de 2.000 residentes han sido reubicados, las escuelas han sido cerradas, los estudiantes fueron trasladados y se espera que la empresa pague por el alojamiento de animales domésticos y de policía adicional.

Nadie niega la gravedad del problema en Porter Ranch, pero los residentes y activistas del este y sureste no pueden evitar la sensación de que hay un doble estándar en juego, especialmente cuando se trata del gobernador Brown, quien la semana pasada declaró Estado de Emergencia en Porter Ranch después de recorrer las instalaciones de Aliso Canyon y reunirse con los residentes afectados.

Su declaración permite al Estado movilizar personal del estado, equipo y servicios necesarios, así como desistir de cualquier ley o regulación en marcha para lidiar con la cuestión ambiental. También le da poder al gobernador para asignar fondos de emergencia para reparar la fuga, que se espera tome de tres a cuatro meses para ser reparada.

La residente de Boyle Heights Doelorez Mejía se alegró de ver la rápida llamada a la acción por el gobernador y los funcionarios estatales en Porter Ranch, pero no podía dejar de sentir la injusticia de la situación.

“Estoy decepcionada que nuestra comunidad no fue considerada como digna de tal protección rápida”, le dijo a EGP. “Pero, lamentablemente, no me sorprende”.

Residentes afectados por Exide protestaron durante una ceremonia en noviembre donde asistió el gobernador Jerry Brown, quien no se ha pronunciado al respecto. (EGP foto por Fred Zermeno)

Residentes afectados por Exide protestaron durante una ceremonia en noviembre donde asistió el gobernador Jerry Brown, quien no se ha pronunciado al respecto. (EYCEJ)

Se refería a los años que fueron ignoradas las súplicas de los residentes que viven cerca de la planta de reciclaje de baterías de ácido y plomo Exide.

En 2013, los funcionarios de la calidad del aire informaron que Exide había violado las emisiones de químicos tóxicos que ponen a más de 110.000 residentes en la zona del este y sureste en un mayor riesgo de cáncer. El plomo y el arsénico se habían encontrado en el suelo en las casas cercanas y en al menos un parque.

No era la primera vez que Exide había violado las normas estatales sobre emisiones tóxicas, ni sería la última.

Pero a diferencia de Porter Ranch, las demandas contra Exide no fueron escuchadas. Los residentes no fueron reubicados, las clases no fueron canceladas y las instalaciones no fueron cerradas pese a que Exide operó durante décadas en un permiso temporal emitido por el Departamento de Control de Sustancias Tóxicas de California (DTSC).

La protesta pública durante decenas de reuniones de la comunidad, audiencias y marchas de protesta sobre su exposición a niveles tóxicos de arsénico y plomo–conocidos por causar daño neurológico permanente a los niños y mujeres embarazadas–no lograron forzar el cierre de la instalación. De hecho, tomó que la Oficina del Fiscal de Estados Unidos interviniera y amenazara a Exide de cargos penales federales, para acordar un cierre permanente negociado en abril de 2015.

Exámenes y pruebas de las emisiones de aire en la zona ahora muestran que al menos dos millones de personas podrían estar en un riesgo elevado de cáncer y otros problemas de salud debido a los años de exposición al plomo de la planta de Exide. Reguladores estatales de tóxicos ahora creen que hasta 10.000 propiedades necesitan ser examinadas y descontaminadas. Hasta ahora, sólo se han limpiado 184 propiedades contaminadas.

A Exide se le permitió operar al lado de casas que habían estado en la zona durante generaciones. En Porter Ranch, urbanistas habían permitido a los desarrolladores construir en un terreno baldío al lado del centro de Aliso Canyon, que había estado allí durante décadas.

La residente de Boyle Heights Teresa Marquez reconoce que los riesgos ambientales tanto en Porter Ranch y Exide representan una amenaza para la salud pública, pero dice que ella sabía que  la respuesta sería drásticamente diferente en Porter Ranch.

“La diferencia clave es el dinero y lo blanco”, dijo con franqueza. “Y nosotros sólo somos latinos pobres”.

Porter Ranch es un vecindario más afluente de Los Ángeles situado en el borde del noroeste del Valle de San Fernando. Sus habitantes son en su mayoría blancos, con un ingreso familiar medio de más de $120.000. En contraste, los impactos de contaminación de Exide a las comunidades altamente densas de Bell, Boyle Heights, Commerce, el área no incorporada del Este de Los Ángeles, Huntington Park y Vernon; todos hogares de clase trabajadora en su mayoría latinos.

“No puedo evitar preguntarme por qué el horrible desastre en Porter Ranch ha captado tanto la atención, mientras que el igualmente terrible desastre en Exide ha capturado tan poco”, la supervisora Presidente de la Junta del Condado de Los Ángeles Hilda L. Solís le dijo a EGP vía email.

Mark López, director ejecutivo de East Yard Communities para la Justicia Ambiental, le dijo a EGP que su ira no es contra Porter Ranch o sus residentes, pero con el estado y el gobernador “quienes pueden dar respuestas, pero optan por no hacerlo”.

“La fuga de gas debería haber sido cerrada el mes pasado, dicho esto, Exide debería haber sido cerrado hace décadas”.

A finales del año pasado  Brown asistió a una apertura de un hotel en Bell Gardens, cerca de Exide. López y otros residentes del este también estaban allí, afuera airadamente protestando el silencio del gobernador ante el problema de Exide. Llevaron pancartas y una efigie de Brown de papel maché de 10 pies. A diferencia de Porter Ranch, el gobernador aún tiene que visitar a las comunidades afectadas por Exide o públicamente comentar sobre la larga crisis ambiental que juega Exide, a pesar de que ahora se llama uno de los mayores desastres de salud pública en la historia del estado.

Gladys Limón, abogada de Communities for a Better Environment (Comunidades para un Mejor Ambiente) le dijo a EGP que la respuestas de las agencias estatales y de gobernador a la catástrofe de Porter Ranch revelan una disparidad racial marcada en los esfuerzos para proteger a las comunidades de los riesgos de salud y seguridad causadas por las operaciones industriales.

“El Estado descuidó a miles de familias del sureste y este de Los Ángeles durante décadas, y hasta hoy el gobernador no ha reconocido personalmente la emergencia sanitaria de Exide ni se ha reunirdo con los residentes”, dijo.

La ex supervisora del Condado Gloria Molina le dijo a EGP que ella continuamente llamó a la oficina del gobernador para conseguir que se tomen medidas, pero nunca recibió una contestación.

“El gobernador esta totalmente desinteresado”, dijo, y agregó que puede tener algo que ver con el bajo número de votantes registrados en la zona.

“Él se enorgullece de ser el gobernador del medio ambiente, pero parece más interesado en la protección de los árboles que en la gente”, dijo Molina.

Algunos activistas ambientales dicen que creen que la respuesta del gobernador a la fuga de gas en Aliso Canyon puede estar más en línea con su compromiso de ser el líder mundial en la reducción de emisiones de efecto invernadero, que sobre unos problemas de salud.

Márquez dijo que se sorprendió al escuchar que Brown se había reunido con residentes de Porter Ranch.

“Él no ha hablado con nosotros”, dijo. “No sé por qué no ha tomado medidas similares … simplemente no se preocupa por nuestra comunidad”.

EGP contactó al gobernador para obtener su respuesta a las preocupaciones de los residentes del este a las cuales él ha sido indiferente, y concordando con la crítica de la comunidad y funcionarios electos, Brown volvió a fallar para comentar personalmente sobre la situación. En su lugar, transfirió nuestra solicitud al Departamento de Control de Sustancias Tóxicas, la agencia reguladora estatal a cargo de la limpieza, que durante años ha sido fuertemente criticada por su manejo de Exide.

“La protección de la comunidad en torno a la instalación de Exide Technologies en Vernon es una alta prioridad para la Administración”, se lee en la respuesta del portavoz del DTSC Sandy Nax, que acredita al gobernador de proporcionar fondos adicionales para las pruebas residenciales y limpiezas actualmente en curso.

El concejal de Bell Nestor Valencia le dijo a EGP que él y otros residentes de la zona han criticado a DTSC por moverse demasiado lento con las pruebas de muestra de suelo y la limpieza de propiedades.

“Se va a mostrar la disparidad del sureste y las comunidades del Este de Los Ángeles [en comparación] a otras comunidades”, dijo.

Los residentes solo quieren la misma respuesta que vieron en el Valle, la alcaldesa de Huntington Park Karina Macias le dijo a EGP. Quieren los mismos protocolos para todas las comunidades, dijo.

“Nadie debería tener que vivir en circunstancias como esas–donde se ve afectada su salud”, agregó Macías. “Sin ofender a Porter Ranch, pero lo lamentable es que nosotros no vemos tal respuesta cuando estamos hablando de una sustancia tóxica”.

En lugar de esperanza, Mejía dice que la respuesta de los funcionarios electos ante el desastre de Porter Ranch reafirma lo que ya sabían.

“Ellos no se preocupan mucho por nuestro pueblo dentro de la ciudad. Ellos no se preocupan por los barrios industriales o los trabajadores de la manera que lo hacen con las comunidades más ricas”.

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Twitter @nancyreporting

nmartinez@egpnews.com

State Officials Propose New Regs in Wake of Porter Ranch Gas Leak

January 14, 2016 by · Leave a Comment 

A group of state legislators unveiled a package of proposed legislation Monday in response to a continuing gas leak in Porter Ranch, calling for an immediate moratorium on injecting any more gas into the well and calling for stepped-up inspections of aging wells statewide.

“We need to have more inspections, more pro-active inspections,” said Sen. Fran Pavley, D-Agoura Hills. “We need to have a plan as infrastructure ages out – some kind of policy and timeline for replacement. Always err on the side of caution, not hoping with your fingers crossed that there won’t be a problem.”

Pavley and other legislators noted that while seven state agencies are involved in monitoring or investigating the leak at Southern California Gas Co.’s Aliso Canyon storage facility, there is no single agency with responsibility for oversight of such facility. Such oversight is called for in one of the bills the legislators plan to introduce. The bill would also require a utility responsible for environmental damage to bear the full cost of remediation without passing the bill to ratepayers.

The senators also plan to introduce a bill that would ban new injections of gas into Aliso Canyon and bar the use of aging wells at the site until they can be inspected to determine they do not pose any public safety risk.

The proposed legislation will also include requirements for inspections of storage facilities across California, mandating such inspections over the next 12 months, then at least once a year afterward.

The senators noted that more than half of the roughly 420 gas storage wells in the state are more than 40 years old. They said 48 of the 111 storage wells at Aliso Canyon were drilled in 1953 or earlier.

Gas Co. spokeswoman Trisha Muse said the company appreciates the lawmakers’ “interest in the topic” and looks forward to taking part in the public discussion around them.

No injections are being made in the field at this time, though gas is still being withdrawn, Muse said.

Muse said the Aliso Canyon facility is “the largest of four natural gas storage fields that SoCalGas operates in Southern California” and provides fuel to “homes, manufacturers, hospitals, universities, small businesses and all customers who rely on a ready supply of energy from natural gas.”

Similarly to water reservoirs, “we need to maintain the gas reserves at Aliso at a functional level to ensure we can meet the demand,” Muse said.

“Aliso is unquestionably a strategic asset that is vital to the region’s economy and the people who depend on a reliable source of energy from natural gas,” according to Muse.

The Aliso Canyon leak was discovered Oct. 23, leading to hundreds of complaints from residents about negative health effects. Thousands of residents have been temporarily moved out of the area, and thousands more are looking to move.

Two schools in the area have also been shut down, with students being transferred to other campuses when classes resumed Tuesday.

Southland air quality regulators are proposing an order that would require the Gas Co. to install equipment to capture and incinerate natural gas leaking from the well.

A Gas Co. official said the utility has submitted permit applications to begin installing the equipment, but it’s unclear how long it will take to process them. Hundreds of Porter Ranch-area residents packed a South Coast Air Quality Management District hearing Saturday to discuss the mitigation measures.

County Supervisor Mike Antonovich compared the problem with one of the world’s worst nuclear disasters.

“This is a critical problem. This is a mini-Chernobyl. This is a problem,” he said to applause. “They’ve had their Thanksgiving, they’ve had their Hanukkah, they’ve had their Christmas, they’ve had their New Year, they’ve had their family celebrations all disrupted because of irresponsible actions, from the state to the gas company.”

Gas. Co. attorney Robert Wyman of the firm Latham & Watkins LLP stated at the meeting that the leak was “being addressed as safely and expeditiously as possible.”

“This is SoCalGas’s highest priority,” he said.

Multiple lawsuits have already been filed against SoCalGas over the leak, including one by Los Angeles City Attorney Mike Feuer. He announced Monday that Los Angeles County has joined that litigation.

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