Residents of the massive clean-up area surrounding the closed Exide battery recycling plant in Vernon marched through downtown Los Angeles on Monday evening in protest a bankruptcy court ruling allow the company to abandon the heavily contaminated site.
Some brought plastic bags of dirt from lead-polluted courtyards, tossing them over a fence on the steps of the Federal Courthouse on North Main and West Temple streets.
“These are donations from the area affected by Exide,” said Mark Lopez, co-director of East Yard Communities for Environmental Justice, who organized the protest.
The protest drew about 150 people, including many from communities in southeast Los Angeles County riddled with lead contamination from decades of air pollution from the closed Exide Technologies facility.
“Eastern LA under attack. What are we doing? Stand up, fight back, ”chanted the crowd as they walked down 1st Street from Mariachi Plaza in Boyle Heights, beating drums and holding up signs demanding responsibility for the pollution.
The U.S. Department of Justice has backed Exide’s bankruptcy plan, approved by a Delaware bankruptcy court on Friday, which allows the company to move away from its half-demolished facility and leave the costly toxic cleanup to the public. California taxpayers. The judge concluded that the site is not an imminent threat to the public.
The decision infuriated Guadalupe Valdovinos, 35, whose East LA home is sandwiched between two neighboring properties that have not been cleaned up. She attended the protest with her 11-year-old daughter and brought a small bag of soil from her neighbor’s garden, where high levels of lead were detected.
“Why is it okay for us to live in poison? Said Valdovinos. “For me, this is an imminent threat. But we don’t matter. We are collateral damage.
Protesters projected a skull symbol on the side of the federal court building as they took turns sharing stories about the effects of lead pollution on their health and communities. Others left signs: “Criminalize Polluters” and “Dirt Bags for Dirt Bags”.
State and local authorities, including Gov. Gavin Newsom, have lambasted the bankruptcy court‘s decision. The State Department of Toxic Substance Control appealed the decision and filed a motion to stay the decision.
Protesters also denounced state regulators who cleared the Vernon plant, which melted used car batteries, run for decades without a full permit, despite repeated violations of air pollution limits and hazardous waste laws. Exide agreed to shut down the plant permanently in 2015 as part of a deal with federal prosecutors to avoid criminal prosecution for years of illegal activity.
Since then, residents of half a dozen communities have fought toxic waste regulators to have their gardens cleaned. About 2,000 residential properties have undergone contaminated soil removal, but thousands more with lead levels above state limits remain uncleaned.