In the News
Court Allows Exide to Abandon a Toxic Site in Vernon. Taxpayers Will Fund the Cleanup
- Los Angeles Times
A bankruptcy court ruled Friday that Exide Technologies may abandon its shuttered battery recycling plant in Vernon, leaving a massive cleanup of lead and other toxic pollutants at the site and in surrounding neighborhoods to California taxpayers.
The decision by Chief Judge Christopher Sontchi of the U.S. Bankruptcy Court District of Delaware, made over the objections of California officials and community members, marks the latest chapter in a decades-long history of government failures to protect the public from brain-damaging lead, cancer-causing arsenic and other pollutants from the facility.
The plan’s confirmation only deepens a fiasco that has subjected working-class Latino communities across southeast Los Angeles County to chronic and dangerous levels of soil contamination and made the area a symbol of environmental injustice.
Community groups have fought for years with the company and its environmental regulators to restrict harmful pollution, shut down illegal operations and clean up the toxic mess. The property’s abandonment compounds the challenges of addressing ongoing health risks to young children and others living nearby, where thousands of yards remain riddled with lead, a powerful neurotoxin with no safe level of exposure.
“I’m frustrated and enraged that Exide is getting away with this, but also by how our system is failing us again and again,” said Boyle Heights resident Idalmis Vaquero, who lives within the residential cleanup zone surrounding the plant. “It’s infuriating. Our federal government is allowing a toxic polluter to walk away, leaving the victims of this contamination to figure out what to do next.”
The decision followed a two-day court hearing with testimony from environmental regulators, company consultants and officers and health experts, much of it about the threats to the environment and the public from abandoning a hazardous facility with the remediation unfinished.
Young children are particularly vulnerable to lead because their brains are still developing and can suffer lifelong harm, including lower IQs, learning difficulties and behavioral problems, from even low levels of exposure to contaminated soil and dust, Dr. Gina Solomon, a UC San Francisco professor of medicine and researcher at the Public Health Institute, testified during Thursday’s hearing.
State officials blame decades of air pollution from the plant, which melted down used car batteries until its closure five years ago, for spreading lead dust across half a dozen communities, including Boyle Heights, East Los Angeles, Commerce and Maywood. The area has more than 100,000 residents.
A state-led cleanup has so far removed contaminated soil from 2,000 residential properties, as well as as well as parks, day-care facilities and schools. But thousands more have yet to be cleaned in the largest remediation project of its kind in California.
The Trump administration, through the U.S. Department of Justice and the Environmental Protection Agency, supported Exide’s plan, which also leaves behind toxic sites in several other states. Those sites too remain a threat to public health and the environment.
The Justice Department said it received more than 1,000 written public comments in opposition to the proposal, which was released three weeks ago and provided the public eight business days to weigh in. More than 650 people called in to a five-hour public hearing Tuesday, with 125 people giving oral testimony that was “universally and strenuously and sometimes emotionally opposed to approval,” according to a Justice Department filing.
Local elected officials were incensed by the ruling.
“This blatant disregard for the community by Exide, the DOJ and the judge is just another reminder that if you’re brown and poor, you’re disposable,” Assemblywoman Cristina Garcia (D-Bell Gardens) said in a statement.
“Today we have witnessed another disturbing injustice,” State Assemblyman Miguel Santiago (D-Los Angeles) said in a statement. “We will fight this horrific decision and stop the harm that is being done to our communities.”
Click below to read the full story in the Los Angeles Times.
Originally published by Los Angeles Times