The Flint water crisis has put a national spotlight on lead contamination, prompting many cities to reexamine their own regulatory tactics. Now, city officials in LA are warning some residents about potential lead exposure from a shuttered battery-recycling plant.
According to the Los Angeles Times, a small team of volunteers led by LA Mayor Eric Garcetti went door-to-door on Saturday to begin assessing the extent of lead contamination emitted by the Exide Technologies facility in Vernon, CA.
Each resident was urged to sign an agreement that allows state officials to test their properties for lead, arsenic, and other dangerous toxins. Communities that are believed to have been affected by this contamination include Boyle Heights, East Los Angeles, Commerce, Bell, Huntington Park, and Maywood, accounting for nearly 10,000 homes.
Much like the situation in Flint, East LA residents had been asking regulators to address the plant’s pollution for quite some time. As MLive.com reported, Virginia Tech testing of Flint’s water in September finally revealed the dire lead contamination issue that residents had known about since 2014.
“There is no question that this effort should have happened a long time ago,” Garcetti said at the Ramon Garcia Recreational Center in Boyle Heights. “But now it’s here. Today is about saving lives and taking action.”
The Exide crisis is unique because it deals with lead dust, a form of air pollution that is much harder to eliminate than litter or corroded pipes. Up to $11.5 billion is spent every year to clean up litter, but specific projects geared towards cleaning up air pollution are typically much more expensive.
Last month, Gov. Jerry Brown proposed a bill requesting $177 million to expedite testing and cleanup. The state Legislature is expected to approve the bill this year, which would be one of the largest state-funded cleanup efforts in the history of California.
Brown’s proposal was welcome by all, but working-class Latino communities surrounding the plant were particularly relieved that testing was now being funded. Many believed that state regulators responded more quickly to health concerns in wealthier communities, including the northern San Fernando Valley foothill community of Porter Ranch.
In addition to learning of the impending tests, residents also lined up to have their blood tested for lead poisoning by the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health. Exposure to lead can be deadly for children, and arsenic has been tied to a number of serious health issues, including cancer.
Exide Technologies has accepted full responsibility for the cost of cleaning up the lead dust to avoid criminal charges. While this ordeal is far from over, it’s promising to see city officials get the ball rolling for testing and cleanup.