Federal authorities faced a wave of community opposition during a public hearing Tuesday on an Exide Technologies bankruptcy plan to abandon a closed battery recycling plant in Vernon, accused of spreading the virus. lead contamination in Southeastern LA County.
Almost universal outrage has come from dozens of members of the predominantly Latino communities surrounding the closed facility of Exide Technologies. One person after another during the hour-long hearing lambasted the proposal and urged authorities to reject it and continue with actions to hold the company accountable for its pollution.
The US Department of Justice and the Environmental Protection Agency have agreed not to oppose the company’s plan, which is expected to be considered for approval in a bankruptcy court hearing on Thursday.
“Accepting this terrible proposal would allow Exide to get away with poisoning our families with lead and other heavy metals,” said Mayor Elizabeth Alcantar of Cudahy. “The federal government should not be acting on the side of polluting companies and should instead stand up for our residents. “
If passed, the proposal would leave taxpayers with the bill for the largest lead-contaminated soil cleanup in California, which covers half a dozen communities and thousands of homes in an area of 100,000 people.
“We will be asked to live in our contaminated homes forever and to suffer for generations,” said Terry Gonzalez-Cano of Boyle Heights. “What gives you the right to let them go financially?” “
The panel of Department of Justice and EPA officials, which held the hearing remotely by conference call, heard from residents of the clean-up area whose family members have died of cancer or whose children suffered from lead poisoning or learning disabilities, as well as environmental and health experts. who called it appalling environmental injustice.
“In my 30 years of cleaning up contaminated sites, I have never encountered a site that poses such a widespread and profound threat to human health,” said James Wells, an environmental geologist who has served as a technical advisor to Exide Community Advisory. Group. “And it’s really disheartening that a government agency is supporting the abandonment of the site.”
The lead-acid car battery recycling plant shut down permanently in 2015 after Georgia-based company Exide struck a deal with the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Central District of California. The company admitted to committing years of environmental crimes but avoided prosecution by agreeing to shut down and demolish the plant and clean up the pollution.
Exide’s restructuring chief executive Roy Messing declined to comment on Tuesday.
The public hearing came a day after the State Department for Toxic Substance Control issued an order determining that conditions at the Vernon site may constitute an “imminent and substantial danger to public health or welfare. or for the environment ”.
In a statement, DTSC director Meredith Williams called the action “a proactive step to ensure that we can protect these communities from further releases from this facility, should it ever be abandoned.”
California regulators have let the facility operate without a license for more than three decades and have failed to require the company to set aside sufficient funds to clean up its pollution, even though it has repeatedly broken waste rules dangerous and air pollution.
Exide filed for bankruptcy in May with the intention of liquidating its assets in several states.
The Vernon facility is one of 17 Exide properties in 11 bankruptcy states that are either not functioning or profitable, most of which “require future repair to protect public health, safety and security. and the environment, “according to a fact sheet released before Tuesday’s hearing by the Justice Ministry.
The Justice Department document states that a key objective of the plan is to “reduce the risk of chaotic and damaging abandonment” and that if not approved, the risk of abandonment “is greatly increased and the cleaning funding may be reduced or delayed. . ”
California refused to sign the proposal and filed objections against it in court.
California has already set aside more than $ 270 million in public funds to clean up lead contamination from the construction sites of thousands of homes spanning more than 1.7 miles from the facility. So far, state regulators have removed lead soil from around 2,000 residential properties, as well as parks, daycares and schools. But thousands of other properties with lead levels above state health limits have yet to be cleaned up.
The state’s toxics department said no funds for residential cleanup would be siphoned off for shutting down the facility and that it would continue that process using the $ 26.4 million that Exide was previously required to put in. aside to clean the installation. The safe closure and clean-up of the site is expected to exceed that amount, reaching $ 70 million to $ 100 million, according to state estimates.