Should State and Federal Agencies have done more to Protect Consumers from Exide’s Contamination?

There has been a lot of media coverage on the lead contamination left behind since the Exide plant closed in Vernon in 2014.  During its 92 years in operation it managed to contaminate over 10,000 properties within about a mile radius of the plant.  The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) added warnings about the potential contamination to homes in the area in their databases in 2000 but many real estate transactions took place in the area between 2000 and 2014.

Real Estate services companies offer Environmental Hazard Reports (some are provided free of charge with an NHD report) to alert potential home buyers to known hazards.  But, in the case of the Exide plant in Vernon, and reported by the LA Times, the California Department of Toxic Substances has tested the soil of more than 2,400 homes but has only released results for 289 of those homes.  This begs the question as to how bad the contamination really is and should the agency and the EPA be doing more to alert potential home buyers? And are the city and state doing enough to clean up the affected homes?

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency considers a soil level of 400 parts per million or higher a health hazard in bare soil in children’s play areas. More than half the properties included in the data released to the public registered lead readings above that threshold.

California’s health standard for residential soil is even more stringent, at 80 ppm. What we do know is that more than 98% of homes tested had levels of lead above the 80-ppm standard, according to data from the state toxics agency and the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health.

Lead levels at some homes were 100 times above health limits.

For three decades, state regulators allowed the plant about five miles from downtown L.A.  to operate without a full permit while it racked up environmental violations for spewing  lead, arsenic and other dangerous pollutants. They now believe those emissions fouled as many as 10,000 homes within a 1.7-mile radius.

State officials say the removal of polluted soil from more than 2,000 additional homes cannot begin until next spring, when they expect to complete a lengthy review of the cleanup required under the California Environmental Quality Act. It will take another year to clean those homes at a rate of 50 properties a week, officials say.

As regulators spend $176.6 million set aside for testing and cleanup, they say they will give priority to the most contaminated properties — those above 1,000 ppm — as well as those with young children, pregnant women, bare soil and other factors that increase the risk of lead poisoning.

Lawmakers and community groups have also had difficulty obtaining information on what areas have been tested and cleaned and what soil sampling has found.

More time and hundreds of millions of dollars in additional funding will be required to clean thousands of other homes that are likely to be contaminated across the communities of Bell, Commerce, East Los Angeles, Huntington Park, Boyle Heights, Maywood and Vernon. The state plans to seek reimbursement from Exide and any other responsible parties.

What do you think about this ongoing situation?  Should the California Department of Toxic Substances and EPA have done more? We’d love to hear from you!