Exide cleanup information now available on state website

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By Alfredo Santana

Contributing Writer

VERNON — Residents with properties impacted by lead from the former Exide Technologies plant will have access to letters of completion and data that contains quantified levels of toxic metals sampled from parcels being clean up.

The documents are linked to an interactive map found at the overhauled website, the state Department of Toxic Substances Control announced last week.  

Other modules included in the revamped website contain soil sampling forms, contracts issued to environmental companies and the percentages of workers hired from communities bearing the brunt of lead pollution.  

The site also offers an interactive map with properties located within the 1.7-mile perimeter from the former battery recycler with a set of color codes indicating the parcels’ cleanup status and those that need to file for soil sampling. 

About 800 letters of completion were uploaded and are available on the map’s links to cleaned parcels, identified with yellow at www.dtsc.ca.gov/residential-cleanup/. 

The state agency also said it plans to disclose initial reports on about 8,000 of the 10,100 properties found to qualify for soil decontamination.  

Making the process more transparent follows a myriad of complaints from area residents blaming the agency for letting environmental contractors run inefficient soil cleanups on homes and for refusing to release figures listing lead loads on properties. 

The uproar erupted after a study conducted by USC and reported by the Los Angeles Times concluded that many lots already detoxified still had pockets with lead above the 80 parts per million, the state’s threshold to tag parcels for soil cleaning. 

Soil lead concentrations of 80 ppm and higher are considered by state toxicologists to pose serious dangers to humans and can lead to cancer and brain diseases. 

About 500 of the nearly 3,400 properties that have had their soil removed and replenished had not been fully detoxified, The Times reported in February.

Initially, the documents were supposed to be mailed to property owners. 

Representatives from the state agency have defended the cleanups. They said portions of properties had been left untouched due to structures at risk of collapsing, trees with roots in danger of falling or wilting if they were cut, and for the presence of water pipes.  

They argued removing soil six inches deep and replenishing the yards with a clean coat controlled any chances of future contamination in properties with higher loads of lead buried up to 18 inches below the surface if it is not unearthed. 

The map’s color codes indicate whether a parcel has been cleaned, does not require cleaning, met cleanup criteria as of Aug. 1, 2021, properties with lead concentration between 80 and 200 parts per million, and identifies lots whose owners have not granted access for sampling.

In addition, the Exide residential page includes links on remediation progress, soil sampling data, how to sign up for soil testing, parkways sampling, environmental and cleanup plan, and an audit conducted in 2020.

It also provides a module titled workforce corner, with data on the composition of the labor force hailing from the impacted communities of Boyle Heights, East Los Angeles, Commerce, Maywood, Huntington Park, Vernon, Bell and other places. 

Now, the soil sampling block features tables with addresses, dates of sampling, depth of ground soil obtained, types of metals found, names of laboratories that conducted the tests, and samples captured from chipped paint. 

According to the spreadsheet tables, 341,587 soil and paint samples have been collected from 9,100 contaminated properties within the investigation area as of April 14. 

Of the current total, 8,704 samples originated from the sprawling Wyvernwood Garden Apartments in Boyle Heights. 

Soil cleanup jobs finished at those units more than a year ago, but many residents complained that heavy machinery and backhoes used to excavate and scoop tainted soil ruptured water pipes. 

Running water mixed with loose soil, adults picked up the mud with their shoes, and dragged the dirty matter into their apartments, residents said at community hearings. 

Another issue was that machines used at the Wyvernwood apartments crushed sprinkler pipes on landscapes. 

Environmental activists and residents cried foul against the contractor for lax safety measures during the cleanups, including leaving open trenches without fences, allowing children to play on dirty surfaces on their days off. 

Boyle Heights resident Sofia Quinoñes derided the state agency’s release of completion letters as an attempt to divert attention from the number of casualties with asthma, cancer and numerous diseases the lead plumes have spread on working class communities of color.  

Quinoñes, who attended the first in-person community gathering held at a Huntington Park auditorium in March since the COVID-19 pandemic began, insisted residents need advanced medical tests to detect lead lodged in their bodies. 

“They can test the soil and clean it. What they haven’t tested are the people,” Quinoñes said. “We have contacted doctors and experts. Our people have died. They were exposed to high levels of lead. The blood stream eliminates lead in 30 days. We need better scanning machines. We are more important than anything.” 

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