It will be another two-and-a-half weeks before Los Angeles County begins offering long-delayed free blood tests to neighbors of the troubled Exide battery recycling plant in Vernon, a county health official told KPCC Wednesday. The tests will be available to those concerned about their health in the wake of soil tests that found elevated levels of lead at dozens of homes surrounding the troubled facility.
The county had originally planned to begin offering the tests last fall, following an October deal Exide struck with regulators that allowed the plant to remain open.
Under the terms of the deal, Exide agreed to pay for the blood tests, while the responsibility for administering them fell on the L.A. County Department of Public Health.
TIMELINE: Vernon battery recycler Exide's run-ins with regulators
Logistics and planning for the tests took longer than expected, county physician Dr. Cyrus Rangan told KPCC.
The tests will begin on April 7 and run through September, he said.
If a test detects an elevated level of lead in the blood, the county will send inspectors and nurses to the person's home to find the lead and arrange for medical treatment if necessary, said Rangan. He cautioned, however, that neither the blood tests nor the home inspections will indicate whether the lead is coming from the Exide plant.
Rangan spoke to KPCC at a community meeting called by the state Department of Toxic Substances Control (DTSC) to inform Exide's neighbors about what they can do to protect themselves and their children from lead poisoning.
Regulators advised parents to keep their children away from areas of bare soil as a precaution, wash their children’s hands and feet, place doormats outside the home, and rinse home-grown fruits and vegetables.
"The levels we found are not a public health emergency, but we are concerned," DTSC Deputy Director Brian Johnson told the crowd at the Resurrection Catholic Church in East Los Angeles.
Most of the 200 community members who turned out for the meeting expressed anger at the agency and called on regulators to shut the Exide plant down.
Besides calling on the regulators to close the Exide plant, residents demanded that the DTSC do more to clean up the contamination.
"You cannot wash lead out of our properties. It has to be dug out," said Teresa Marquez of East L.A.
In response to the lead detected in soil, regulators have required Exide to conduct further testing across a wider area surrounding its plant. The DTSC has given the company until Friday to draft a plan for the additional tests, as well as a plan to protect people in homes with elevated lead levels.
"We're working diligently to finalize the requested work plans... and will have these work plans, including any necessary follow-up actions, ready for Department review in a timely manner," an Exide executive said in a statement.
The executive, Bud DeSart, added that though the company is cooperating with regulators, evidence that the lead found at people's homes had come from Exide's plant and not others sources like freeway exhaust or lead paint "is not yet conclusive."
The Exide plant has been cited for emitting excess lead numerous times, including last September.