Today in Exide: DTSC Begins 2nd Phase of Residential Clean-up; Releases DEIR and Draft Closure Plan for Vernon Facility
Last week, the Department of Toxic Substances Control (DTSC) began a second round of clean-ups of lead-contaminated soil in the residential areas around Exide Technologies’ now-shuttered lead-acid battery recycling facility. The Vernon plant and serial violator of environmental regulations cut a deal with the U.S. Attorney’s Office in March, 2015, to close up shop in exchange for avoiding criminal prosecution. As part of the closure process, Exide must clean up toxic waste at its former facility as well as lead-contaminated soil at residences, schools, and parks surrounding the plant.
Begun last year, the first round of residential clean-ups targeted the 219 properties found within the original Northern and Southern Assessment Areas — areas straddling Boyle Heights, East L.A., and Maywood that air modeling determined would be most likely affected by Exide’s lead emissions (outlined in light blue, above). More than 10,000 tons of contaminated soil was ultimately removed from a total of 186 properties.
Challenges in Cleaning up Residential Properties
While last week’s launch of the second round of clean-ups does mark an important milestone, it is only the beginning of the potentially massive project that lies ahead. This past August, the preliminary results of soil testing in expanded areas to the north and south of the plant suggested that Exide’s emissions may have deposited lead dust over as many as 10,000 homes within a 1.3 to 1.7-mile radius of the facility (above map).
Only 146 properties in the Expanded Assessment Areas have been tested thus far, with 50 being prioritized for immediate clean-up. And while 2,800 letters have been sent out to residences within the expanded areas, it is not clear what the timeline will be for following up on those letters and getting properties tested and/or cleaned. Nor is it clear when DTSC will have sufficient funds to perform a wider clean-up.
Per an order, Exide is on the hook for cleaning up any home where lead levels exceed 400 parts per million and homes with bare soil where levels exceed 80 parts per million (the level at which the state recommends further health screenings). But the settlement reached last November initially set aside just $9 million for residential clean-ups. As clean-ups cost about $40,000 per property, those funds only cover approximately 225 sites. And, as of the end of October, DTSC had already used up $8 million of those funds. DTSC was able to secure an additional $5 million from Exide earlier this spring and $7 million in emergency funds from the state in August. But those funds are nowhere near enough to cover testing and clean-ups in the much wider range of territory Exide is thought to have contaminated.
Funding issues aside, the actual clean-up process itself has also had some challenges. Residents have complained that parkways adjacent to contaminated yards were not cleaned and are concerned that, should the contractors have to return to clean the parkways at some point, the dust kicked up could contaminate the yards that had just been cleaned. Advocates have also argued that DTSC is not doing enough to inform residents about the option of having the interiors of their homes cleaned, that it is doing a poor job of letting people know of the extent to which they are at risk from harmful toxins, and that the process is not moving nearly fast enough, given the potential harm. And officials from Commerce — frustrated that they had been overlooked despite their location just to the east of the plant — suggested they may conduct their own testing rather than wait for DTSC.
In an effort to allay some of these fears and promote greater transparency, DTSC has drafted a community engagement plan and meets regularly with an advisory group comprised of community members and advocates and representatives of elected officials and relevant government agencies. It also released the Interim Remedial Measures Work Plan, which offers a detailed discussion of how contaminated soil from the 50 yards prioritized for clean-ups will be safely removed and trucked to distant landfills over the next six months.
Cleaning up Exide’s 15-acre Site in Vernon
The 264-page Closure Plan — needed to ensure health and safety will be protected before the dismantling and decontamination can begin at the 15-acre site — is a very long time coming. [See the Executive Summary, here, appendices, here.] Read more…