California officials are requesting federal assistance to expedite the cleanup of “one of the most toxic lead-contaminated sites in the country” which is located just five miles south of downtown Los Angeles.
For decades, the City of Vernon was home to the Exide Technologies battery recycling plant, and although it was abandoned in 2020 after the company declared bankruptcy, thousands of residents are still suffering from their spread of lead and other toxins.
By designating the area as a federal Superfund site, millions of dollars from the federal government could be brought in to help clean up the contaminated community and bring national attention to this issue.
The facility, which melted down used car batteries until it closed in 2015, is blamed by state officials for decades of spreading lead dust across several communities with more than 100,000 residents.
For years, community groups were ignored in their efforts to hold the company accountable for cleaning up their toxic mess, only to find themselves defeated by the court’s 2020 ruling which allowed Exide to abandon the site. In his ruling, Chief Judge Christopher Sontchi declared that the plant did not pose any “imminent, immediate harm to the general public.” Community residents disagree.
Chronic exposure to lead presents various health risks to young children, affecting their ability to learn and increasing the risk for behavioral problems. For adults, it can lead to reproductive problems and damage kidney and immune function, amongst other health risks. There is no safe level of exposure.
With thousands of residential properties still polluted with lead, Vernon residents were left to figure out the next steps for cleanup while the company walked away scot-free.
Assemblymember Wendy Carrillo called out the roots of this issue, stating that the people of Vernon have been continuously overlooked because their community is made up largely of Spanish-speaking Latino immigrants with low incomes.
“Had this happened in a more affluent community, in a white community, in a community that had more vocal representation with the constituents, it would have been a different story,” she said.
Some residents are still waiting for their homes to be decontaminated. Vernon resident Terry Gonzalez worries that the Superfund request may result in more delays to the cleanup process.
“Our needs have not changed, whether it’s at state or federal level. What we have to worry about is who’s going to actually do the job, who’s going to stick with us and clean up the area,” she said.