Exide: Nearly every property tested so far will need cleanup

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More than 99 percent of the roughly 900 properties tested so far by the state and Los Angeles County around the former Exide battery recycling plant have lead levels high enough to require cleanup, according to state and local figures.

Of the 532 properties tested by the California Department of Toxic Substances Control, only five do not require remediation. Of the 382 properties tested by L.A. County, every one needs lead removed from its yard, according to the county Department of Public Health.

Toxic Substances Control - with help from L.A. County - plans to eventually test around 10,000 properties in a 1.7 mile radius around the former facility in Vernon.

Health officials said Monday that between now and June 2018, they’ll focus first on cleaning up those properties with the highest lead levels – at or above 1,000 parts per million.  (Toxic Substances Control had previously said that it would complete the cleanup of these so-called "Priority 1" homes by June 2017.)

About 23 percent of the contaminated yards have tested at 1,000 parts per million or higher — 180 of those tested by Toxic Substances Control, and 28 of those examined by L.A. County.

Except for the five that tested clean, the rest fall between 80 and 999 parts per million. Toxic Substances Control has not provided a breakdown of how many of the properties it tested are in the second tier - between 400 and 999 parts per million - and the third tier - between 80 and 399 parts per million.

L.A. County Public Health says 139 of the yards it tested registered between 400 and 999 parts per million, and 215 tested between 80 and 399 parts per million.

Local environmental activists say families in Boyle Heights, Maywood, Commerce and East Los Angeles who are in the lower level cleanup tiers should not have to wait until all of the Priority 1 properties are cleaned before getting the lead removed from their yards.

In the meantime, health officials are advising families not to let their kids play on bare soil, to take their shoes off before entering the house and to frequently wash hands and toys.

At this time of year, that could put a damper on Easter egg hunts.

In the wake of criticism that the cleanup was moving too slowly, Brown last month sought to dramatically increase funding for the effort when he asked the legislature to loan $177 million dollars for the project. The funds have not yet been approved. The state would eventually seek reimbursement from Exide, although the company has indicated that it may not accept a government conclusion that it was the source of all of the lead.

"The state is fully responsible and those funds should be made available in order to address what is going on here," said Hugo Lujan, a community organizer with East Yard Communities for Environmental Justice. "We shouldn’t have to wait this long. We already waited enough … more than three decades."

Lujan and others say that what the governor has requested is not nearly enough.

If crews keep finding lead at the current rates, the final price tag could rise above $400 million, based on the state's figures for testing and cleanup.

Toxic Substances Control says testing each yard costs about $2,000, and cleanup runs between $40,000 and $50,000, depending on yard size and other factors.

This story was updated on Mar. 23, 2016 to reflect that Toxic Substances Control clarified the number of houses it has tested.

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