Solis calls for cleaning parkways and inside homes near Exide

The clean-up of lead-contaminated soil near the former Exide plant is the largest of its kind ever in the state.
The clean-up of lead-contaminated soil near the former Exide plant is the largest of its kind ever in the state.
Maya Sugarman/KPCC

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Los Angeles County Supervisor Hilda Solis is calling on the state toxics department to do a more comprehensive cleanup of homes and properties near the former Exide battery recycling plant in Vernon.

The state Department of Toxics Substances Control in July released its long-awaited plan to remove lead-contaminated soil from some 2,500 properties in the 1.7-mile radius around the shuttered facility. Solis argues the effort will be incomplete if the agency doesn't do a thorough internal cleaning of all homes with high levels of lead in their yards. She's also calling on the state to clean the area's parkways - the strips of city-owned land between the sidewalk and the street.

Toxic Substances Control is "committed to cleaning up residential properties, schools, parks and day care centers with the highest levels of lead in soil and greatest risk of exposure," agency spokeswoman Abbott Dutton said in a statement.

The agency will "offer residents, free of charge, the opportunity to have the interior living spaces cleaned by a professional interior cleaning service after [Toxic Substances Control] completes its cleanup," Dutton said.

But Solis wants the internal cleanup to be part of the remediation routine, rather than something residents have to accept. She said a lot of people have declined Toxic Substances Control's offer because they don't understand how important the interior cleaning is.

"They're giving people a coupon and saying, 'Here, you can go to this service and they'll vacuum inside of your home and wipe down the windows,'" said Solis. "That's not, in my opinion, adequate."

Toxic Substances Control has cleaned the yards around 236 homes, but the residents of only 104 of those homes approved the internal cleanup, according to the agency.

Solis is also urging Toxic Substances Control to clean up the parkways, the properties between the sidewalk and the street. Residents have questioned why the agency is cleaning up the lead-contaminated soil in their yards, but not in the nearby sidewalk strips.

The toxics agency is "aware of concerns regarding the cleaning of parkways," said Dutton, adding that it's "evaluating recent comments we received from community members and others."

Toxic Substances Control will try to schedule cleanups of neighboring properties at the same time to promote safety and efficiency, she said.

Under its plan, the agency will first clean homes with a representative lead concentration of 400 parts per million or higher. Crews will also remove soil from daycare and child care centers with a concentration of 80 ppm or higher.

The state uses 80 parts per million as the trigger for removing lead from residential properties. 

In 2016, Gov. Jerry Brown signed a bill authorizing a $176.6 million loan of state funds to greatly expand the testing and cleanup of homes around Exide.

The money is designed to pay for the sampling of soil from more than 10,000 properties around the shuttered facility, and the cleanup of the 2,500 most contaminated.

Lead remediation work came to a halt after the law took effect, as Toxic Substances Control had to conduct a thorough environmental review under the California Environmental Quality Act. That is now complete, and the agency is close to selecting a contractor to carry out the expanded cleanup.

The cleanup will ber the largest-ever of its kind in the state, according to Toxic Substances Control. The agency says it will hold Exide accountable for the cost of cleaning up the contamination, which is expected to run into the hundreds of millions of dollars.

During its three decades of operation, the Exide plant spewed chemicals into the air, including lead, which settled into nearby yards, playgrounds and gardens. In a deal to avoid federal criminal charges, Exide agreed to close the facility in 2015.