State toxics regulators say new tests reveal concerning levels of lead in soil at homes near a battery recycling plant in Vernon. They’re asking Exide Technologies to take action to protect human health.
The Department of Toxic Substances Control ordered environmental testing of soil at 39 homes and two schools near the Exide facility at 2700 South Indiana Street. While the battery recycler has been known to emit arsenic, the samples did not reveal high levels of that toxic metal. All of the homes tested positive for levels of lead that require additional testing and evaluation, according to the DTSC.
Neither school showed lead problems in its soil sample. But test results did find unexpected levels of the substance at the Volunteers of America Salazar Park Head Start pre-school program.
Now regulators are ordering more sampling for lead, both at houses already visited, and others in the areas north and south of Exide’s facility. The company must present a plan for this new round of testing by next Friday. Regulators have also ordered Exide to address any lead contamination above acceptable levels, especially in houses where pregnant women or children live.
“Exide is studying the department’s response and will work cooperatively to conduct the requested additional sampling and the interim clean up measures," said E.N. “Bud” DeSart, senior director for commercial operations with Exide's recycling group. "The health and safety of the community, as well as its workforce, are important to Exide and the company is committed to investing in the Vernon facility to further reduce emissions and protect public health.”
"Our residents have the right to know the full extent to which lead levels constitute harm," said State Senator Kevin DeLeon, in a release.
Exide has been under serious scrutiny in the last year – ever since a report from the South Coast Air Quality Management District linked the recycler’s emissions to heightened cancer risk for over a hundred thousand people in surrounding communities.
Air regulators have sued for $40 million in penalties related to the Exide's emissions. They’ve also sought to shut down the Vernon plant.
This story has been updated.