Neighbors of the Exide battery recycling plant in Vernon made their demands heard at a packed community meeting Tuesday night, many urging authorities to shut down the facility.
The meeting at Resurrection Church was called after last week’s announcement by state officials that elevated levels of lead were discovered in the soil of 39 homes and two schools near the battery recycling plant.
"Be clear. Be specific! Shut down Exide immediately," one resident said.
The state has yet to confirm whether the battery recycler, located at 2700 S. Indiana St., is the source of the lead.
Until then, scientists are urging pregnant women to avoid contact with soil and children who play in the dirt to wash their hands.
Residents shared stories of health problems at Tuesday’s meeting.
"My mother is gone. My father is ill. I'm ill. I won't grow to see my children, I can't have grandchildren because my children are infertile," resident Terry Cano said.
"Right now, I know two people dying of cancer and one just died last year," another resident said.
Exide’s spokeswoman Vanessa Rodriguez believes it’s too early to blame the battery plant, which has been in the Vernon community for nearly a century.
"It is important to understand that the city of Vernon has always been zoned for very heavy industrial uses and certainly that neighborhood has very many industries," Rodriguez said.
Exide officials said the company is working with the Department of Toxic Substances Control to protect public health and says it’s committed to invest more than $5 million over the next two years to upgrade the Vernon battery recycling facility.
The state’s primary concern is the health of the residents.
"The question is not who came first. But all of our communities need to be protected. Regardless of who came first," said DTSC representative Brian Johnson.
The LA County of Public Health and the California DTSC will offer free confidential blood testing for lead to community residents beginning April 7. The screenings will be offered through September. A community meeting will be held on Thursday, Apr. 3 from 3 p.m. to 8 p.m. at the DoubleTree Hotel in Commerce for residents who want to learn about the Blood Lead Screening Program and upcoming environmental assessments.