High Levels of Lead Found in Soil Near L.A. Battery Recycling Plant

The Exide Technologies plant in Vernon. (Photo/Chris Richard)

The Exide Technologies plant in Vernon. (Photo/Chris Richard)

By Chris Richard

Tests of homes and schools near a battery recycling plant east of Los Angeles have detected elevated lead levels, prompting state officials Monday to caution the public against exposure and to order expanded testing.

Both neighborhoods surveyed exceeded the state’s “health screening level” for lead of 80 parts per million. One home topped 580 parts per million, according to a testing report.

Residents are cautioned to keep children away from bare soil and to wash hands thoroughly.

The state Department of Toxic Substances Control has given Exide Technologies until March 21 to develop a plan for additional testing of the 39 homes and two schools included in the original study, as well as a wider area.

This announcement follows testing last month in Boyle Heights and Maywood, just east of downtown Los Angeles. It marks the DTSC’s first discovery of widespread ground contamination in residential areas near Exide’s plant in Vernon.

In addition to new testing requirements, the DTSC also ordered Exide to develop plans to address lead concentrations in residential yards where it exceeds acceptable levels. Priority will be given to homes occupied by pregnant women or children, according to an agency advisory.

The DTSC cautioned people living in the area to keep children away from areas of bare soil and to wash their hands thoroughly, especially when they come inside. Residents should put door mats inside and outside entrances to their homes, only grow produce in raised planter boxes and thoroughly wash any home-gown produce before eating it, the agency warned.

Exposure to lead can cause significant and permanent developmental problems in children and can harm adults as well, according to the Centers for Disease Control.

Officials plan a community meeting in Boyle Heights to discuss the testing on March 19.

The plant has a long history of air pollution write-ups, including repeated allegations that it allowed lead dust to contaminate the surrounding neighborhood, regulators say. Still, the DTSC allowed the factory, which can melt tens of thousands of batteries a day, to operate on “interim status” for some 30 years.

Last April, the DTSC ordered Exide to suspend operations. Regulators said arsenic emissions from the plant endangered as many as 110,000 people living nearby. The South Coast Air Quality Management District estimated cancer risk from the airborne arsenic at up to 15 times state standards.

In January, the AQMD sued, seeking up to $40 million in penalties stemming from alleged illegal emissions of lead and arsenic at the plant.

Preliminary test results from the February samples did not find elevated arsenic concentrations in the soil, DTSC officials said.

Exide issued a statement Wednesday morning as follows:

Exide is studying the department’s response and will work cooperatively to conduct the requested additional sampling and the interim clean up measures. The health and safety of the community, as well as its workforce, are important to Exide and the company is committed to investing in the Vernon facility to further reduce emissions and protect public health.

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