Elevated lead levels found near battery recycling plant

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VERNON (CNS) – Elevated levels of lead were found in the soil of 39 residential yards near a Vernon battery recycling plant, state officials said today, prompting authorities to order the company to conduct expanded testing to determine the extent of the problem.
The soil sampling was ordered last year by the state Department of Toxic Substances Control. The tests found no evidence of elevated arsenic levels, but all 39 homes showed higher-than-normal levels of lead, with some showing levels that were two to three times the state standard.
“Exide is studying the department’s response and will work cooperatively to conduct the requested additional sampling and the interim clean-up measures,” said E.N. “Bud” DeSart, the senior director of commercial operations of Exide’s Recycling Group.
“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.”
State officials ordered the company to submit plans by March 21 for conducting additional soil sampling and addressing the issue at the 39 homes already found to have elevated lead levels, according to the department.
Soil was also tested at two schools near the plant, and while lead was not found to be an issue, one sample taken from Volunteers of America Salazar Park Head Start School was found to have lead levels that were “higher than expected.”
“Out of caution, DTSC has ordered Exide to do more sampling at that school,” according to a community notice issued by the agency. “This effort will help DTSC determine what next steps, if any, are necessary to protect public health.”
The department, while saying there did not appear to be an immediate severe risk to adults living in the affected area, recommended that residents keep children away from bare soil, thoroughly wash children’s hands when they come inside, place mats both inside and outside doors, thoroughly wash home- grown produce and try to grow produce instead in raised planter boxes.
A community meeting to discuss the plant will be held at 6 p.m. March 19 at Resurrection Church, 3324 E. Opal St.
Assembly Speaker John Perez, D-Los Angeles, said the tests “verify what we’ve believed for a long time: Exide’s operations pose a threat to the health and well-being of their workers, the people who live in surrounding communities and the children who attend school nearby.”
Sen. Kevin De Leon, D-Los Angeles, said he was urging Exide officials to quickly begin mitigation efforts and expand soil testing.
“Our residents have the right to know the full extent to which lead levels constitute harm,” he said.
The report issued today is part of longer-term assessment, so conclusions about either risk or source cannot be drawn from this data alone, according to Exide.
The Exide plant has been under close scrutiny by state and local regulators over the past year. The plant was forced to temporarily shut down last year due to arsenic emissions, and the South Coast Air Quality Management District sued the company in January alleging numerous air quality violations.
The firm at 2700 S. Indiana St. is one of only two lead-acid battery recycling plants west of the Rockies. In operation since 1922, the plant recycles 23,000 to 41,000 batteries daily.

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