Topsoil is being removed to a depth of 18 inches from the yard of a Boyle Heights home where testing previously confirmed the presence of lead contamination suspected of coming from a currently closed battery recycling plant, according to the California Department of Toxic Substances Control.
Work will also begin soon at another residential location where lead concentrations in excess of 400 parts per million were also found in soil samples, DTSC head of permitting Rizgar Ghazi said.
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The contaminated soil will be to taken to an Arizona landfill authorized to receive hazardous waste, Ghazi said. New soil will be brought to the properties and landscaping will be restored, the state pledged. Afterwards, the interiors of the homes are to be cleaned and the air passed through HEPA filters.
Last year, the state ordered operators of the Exide recycling plant in Vernon to conduct testing in 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" threshhold; 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.
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.
Even as the cleanup proceeds for the two homes with the highest levels, the Department of Toxic Substances Control (DTSC) has directed Exide to prepare a plan for removing contaminated soil at the 37 other locations with lead above the screening level.
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.
In the south end of Boyle Heights and on the other side of the plant in Maywood, there may be additional yards with elevated levels of lead yet to be identified, Ghazi acknowledged. Some residents and property owners have declined the offer to have their soil tested.
Seeing the removal operation beginning Monday on La Puerta Street, some neighbors were giving new consideration to having their yards tested.
"My sister's concern is she has health problems," said Jimmy Salazar, who lives in the back house of the property he shares with her on La Puerta.
Mayra Lopez, a gardner's daughter, is concerned that her father may be exposed to elevated lead levels
every day he works on La Puerta, and expressed hope property owners will accept the testing offer.
Monday, Ghazi and other DTSC staffers went door-to-door meeting with residents.
Los Angeles County officials, including Supervisor Gloria Molina, previously questioned the vigilence of DTSC in dealing with Exide. Ghazi said DTSC is taking steps to make sure Exide "is held responsible."
Under a separate outreach launched last spring by the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health, residents can get free screening to check for elevated levels of lead in the bloodstream.
The Exide plant in Vernon suspended operations in March when it was unable to meet anti-pollution measures imposed by the South Coast Air Quality Management District. Last month, its board said that the plant cannot reopen unless there was "substantial improvements to its air pollution control system." It would then need to pass "comprehensive emission tests."