The second phase of the cleanup of two residential neighborhoods near the Exide battery recycling plant in Vernon began Friday.
Crews began removing contaminated soil from two yards in Boyle Heights that contain concentrations of lead that could pose a risk to young children or women who are pregnant.
Dept. of Toxic Substance Control Hotline: 844-225-3887
In total, 19 homes in two neighborhoods in Boyle Heights and Maywood contain similar levels of lead, and will receive first priority for cleanup.
These two neighborhoods were identified by the South Coast Air Quality Management District as the most likely to be impacted by lead emissions from the Exide battery recycling plant in Vernon.
"We have kids here so we're concerned about them," said Albert Labrada, a neighbor of the two homes where excavation began Friday.
Contaminated soil being removed was covered by tarps, to stop particulate matter from getting airborne, which air quality monitors were watching for.
Exide was previously ordered by the State Department of Toxic Substances to put aside $9 million to clean up the two neighborhoods.
Last year, the state ordered operators of the plant to conduct testing in nearby neighborhoods north and south of the plant for environmental contamination by lead, arsenic, and other substances.
A report released in March disclosed that concentrations of lead in excess of 80 parts per million (ppm) were found in the yards of 39 homes. Eighty ppm is deemed a "screening" threshold; California Public Health considers concentrations in excess of 400 ppm to be potentially harmful, especially to young children whose brain development can be impaired by lead poisoning.
"We recognize the community's concerns and are confident the Department's tough new order provides strong regulatory oversight for cleaning the identified residential properties," said Thomas Strang, an Exide vice president.
Residents, environmental activists, and a number of Los Angeles County officials contend the plant, which dates to the 1920's, has posed a threat to public health.
Exide maintains there is no evidence of a direct link between its plant and the lead found in the yards, but pledges continued cooperation with government regulators.
It is well-documented that two now-forbidden uses of lead as a chemical additive--in gasoline and in paint--released lead into urban environments over a period of decades.
The state Department of Toxic Substances also ordered Exide to set aside $38.6 million for cleanup costs if the Vernon plant ever closes.