Friday, August 11, 2017

Largest Lead Cleanup in California to Begin Among Long Legal Battle

Los Angeles will begin to remove lead contamination from homes
near the former battery plant, Exide. The project has had many
stalls from lengthy litigation between the state, city and Exide.
Source: Southern California Public Radio

This fall, California's Department of Toxic Substances (CDTS) will begin removing lead-contaminated soil from 2,500 residential properties in Los Angeles. The lead cleanup is the largest in California history and spans seven neighborhoods - yet the state has refused to release details about the contamination, outraging city officials and community members alike.

Exide Technologies shut down two years ago after facing federal criminal charges for illegal lead emissions. The emissions have threatened the health of about 10,000 properties in seven communities: Bell, Boyle Heights, Commerce, East Los Angeles, Huntington Park, Maywood and Vernon. Of these affected properties, only 2,500 residences with the highest lead risks were selected for cleanup. Officials have yet to select a contractor, but estimate that removal will begin this fall.

This leaves more than 7,000 residences without a lead cleanup plan.

"They're not forgotten, they're just not in this phase of cleanup," Mohsen Nazemi, deputy director of CDTS, said in a recent press release.

According to CDTS, the state currently has enough funding to remediate 2,500 of the 10,000 affected residences. The state has spent $42 million in taxpayer money to test and clean; Exide has paid $9 million as part of their legal settlement. Exide is expected to make additional payments in the future, but the state expects a lengthy litigation; last year, Exide filed a lawsuit alleging that the high lead levels could be from lead paint or vehicle emissions.

CDTS has not released much information regarding affected properties. CDTS tested more than 7,000 of the 10,000 residences surrounding the former plant; they found 98% showed lead levels exceeding 80 parts per million. Still, the department has not released the exact locations of these properties.

The state contends that disclosing such information would compromise residents' privacy, but many residents would prefer more transparency with the project.

"Years go by and we're not getting the information. We don't even know what houses they're cleaning. So it's not transparent," Teresa Marquez, president of Mothers of East Los Angeles, said in a recent press release.

So far, the state has spent $42 million to test residences around the former plant and remove lead from 2,500 residences. Exide has paid $9 million as part of their settlement. Exide is expected to make additional payments in the future, but not without a fight; last year, the company filed a lawsuit alleging the elevated lead levels could have come from vehicle emissions or lead paint in homes. The protracted legal cases have caused many standstills with remediation since the lead was discovered.

For the affected residences that missed the first cut, city officials intend to send informational pamphlets on how to minimize their exposure and what they can do to seek remediation on their own. For many residents, private lead removal is unaffordable; about 30% of affected residents are living in poverty.

"I find it really irresponsible to tell the public that we don't know if we're going to take care of you. I have constituents that are panicked that they're going to be left behind," Assemblywoman Cristina Garcia (D-Bell Gardens) said in a recent press release.

City officials and community members are brainstorming ideas for funding. Some suggest that using revenue from new fees that lawmakers imposed on the sale of lead-acid batteries - in the aftermath of Exide - to fund the cleanup.

The state is expected to give more updates on the project as it nears its start date.

To get the latest information about the Los Angeles Exide cleanup, visit the city's website. To learn more about lead abatement, visit Zack Academy's lead homepage.

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