Teams of specialists from the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health will be testing soil in hundreds of properties near the now-shuttered Exide battery recycling plant in Vernon.
Some 500 homes in Maywood will be tested using a state-of-the-art technique to find out how much lead is in the soil.
In the past, the process would take weeks from the time when the dirt was pulled out of the ground, bagged, sent to a lab and then analyzed. Residents, many of whom have been living with contamination for decades, complained that it was taking too long.
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The Board of Supervisors agreed and recently freed up $2 million to bring in testers of their own. In two days, they've already processed 95 homes. Each property can take about two hours to complete the testing.
"You can complete all of the assessments within a matter of months, and then you can turn your attention on cleaning up those that are the most contaminated," said Angelo Bellomo of the Department of Public Health.
Residents and activists have long complained the cleanup process was too slow.
"What they're doing right now is really a big step forward," said Monsignor John Moretta. He said only recently have public health officials told the community to avoid the dirt, especially children and pregnant women.
What they've found so far comports generally with what they expected: four of the 95 properties tested had lead levels above 1,000 parts per million. One in three tested in the 400 to 1,000 range. As a point of comparison, the norm is usually in the one to 200 range.
Public health officials hope their faster testing method will result in faster clean-up.
On Monday, the Board of Supervisors voted to hire a chief sustainability officer to coordinate and ramp up the county's work on environmental and sustainability issues.
Supervisors Sheila Kuehl and Hilda Solis recommended creating the post. The person hired for the job will coordinate with 37 department heads and the existing Sustainability Council. The new officer will be tasked with setting new, more aggressive goals and creating incentives to reach them.
Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti praised the move, which comes in the wake of the Porter Ranch gas leak and closure of the Exide battery recycling plant.
"The county Board of Supervisors is taking a great step forward," Garcetti said in a statement. "It is a critical position to not only help reduce greenhouse gas emissions and combat the effects of climate change, it can also improve housing, create green jobs, and support environmental justice."
City News Service contributed to this report.