Four Los Angeles-area state legislators announced Thursday that they have introduced a bill to provide $540.4 million to fund a clean-up of 10,000 homes polluted by the nearby Exide Technologies battery facility in Vernon.
“What Exide left us with is nothing less than corporate criminal pollution,” said Assemblyman Miguel Santiago, D-Los Angeles. “Exide's abandonment and (the Department of Toxic Substances Control) clean-up delays have left our children to live and play in lead-soaked soil. AB 1024 will finally fund a complete clean-up of Exide's pollution while implementing transparency and accountability protocols for DTSC to prevent any further delay.”
AB 1024 was introduced by Santiago along with Assemblywoman Cristina Garcia, D-Bell Gardens; Sen. Lena Gonzalez, D-Long Beach; and Sen. Maria Elena Durazo, D-Los Angeles.
The Exide plant, which opened in Vernon in 1922, operated for years despite continuing environmental violations. It allegedly released toxic chemicals including lead, arsenic and mercury into more than 10,000 properties in Bell, Boyle Heights, Commerce, Maywood, East Los Angeles, Huntington Park and Vernon, according to Santiago.
In addition to lead-contaminated soil, concerns were raised about the emission of cadmium and other toxic chemicals and the release of battery acid onto roads.
AB 1024 would fund the clean-up of 10,000 residential properties affected by the facility, Santiago said.
“I stand with my colleagues as a co-author on this important measure to allocate $540 million dollars in funding for the continued cleanup of the East Los Angeles communities surrounding the Exide Vernon battery site in strong solidarity with the 100,000 plus community members and families whose health and well-being has been disregarded for decades,” Durazo said in a statement Thursday.
“For too long, Exide and other bad actors have been allowed to engage in criminal behavior on this site, contributing to dangerous levels of contaminants polluting the areas where our children play. This is one of the worst environmental disasters and cases of environmental racism in our state's history. Our Government has failed them. The state needs to step in and do right by these communities by prioritizing the clean-up of the areas surrounding the site.”
In 2015, the U.S. Department of Justice agreed not to prosecute Exide for violations of hazardous waste law in exchange for safely shutting down the Vernon facility and cleaning up related contamination, including lead found in the soil of surrounding homes.
When Exide closed the lead-acid battery recycling plant, it committed to pay $50 million for cleanup of the site and surrounding area. Of that amount, $26 million was meant to be set aside for residential cleanup.
DTSC officials issued a formal determination in October that the condition of the site presents an “imminent and substantial endangerment to the public health or welfare or to the environment.”
Later that month, a bankruptcy court judge approved a settlement agreement allowing Exide to formally abandon the Vernon facility without further liability. Under the agreement, a bond of $11.16 million was issued in connection with liabilities related to the Vernon site.
Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti, Gov. Gavin Newsom and other officials expressed outrage over the bankruptcy court's decision and vowed to continue to fight to hold Exide accountable.
In October, an auditor found that even high-risk properties like child care centers and schools had yet to be cleaned and only about 2,000 residential properties in the area were cleaned.
The DTSC set a goal to clean the 3,200 most contaminated properties by June 2021, but is unlikely to meet that plan, according to the audit.
“While we move toward stronger enforcement policies and transparency measures to help us prevent these grave environmental injustices in the future, our community must no longer have to suffer the detrimental health consequences,” Gonzalez said in a statement Thursday.
“Families need peace of mind and the assurance that their homes and backyards will not remain poisoned with dangerous levels of arsenic or lead that could lead to cancer, respiratory illness, learning problems and other chronic diseases.”
The bill is expected to be heard in April in the Assembly Committee on Environmental Safety and Toxic Materials.