LAUSD will start removing lead-tainted soil from two schools near the old Exide battery recycling plant as soon as this weekend, a district spokeswoman said Tuesday.
The state Department of Toxic Substances Control found high lead levels in soil at Lorena and Rowan Elementary Schools last summer, but it did not order L.A. Unified to remove the dirt. Instead, the state agency advised the district earlier this month that it would be sufficient to erect fencing and/or cover the soil.
But L.A. Unified officials are opting to remove and replace the contaminated soil from several tree wells and front lawns outside of the two schools as a precautionary measure, according to Robert Laughton, who oversees environmental health for the district.
"We could maintain the grass at those schools but we decided we would move forward and do that mitigation," he told the L.A. Unified Board of Education Tuesday.
Toxic Substances Control has approved the district's cleanup plan for the tree wells, and crews could begin that work as soon as this weekend, said district spokeswoman Elvia Perez.
The school district is still waiting for the state to approve its plan for the lawns outside of the schools, said Perez. Once that comes through, L.A. Unified will move forward as quickly as possible - it hopes to get the job done no later than the long Thanksgiving break, she said.
State Assemblyman Miguel Santiago (D-Boyle Heights) told the school board that he walked through the affected schools on Monday. Santiago said he has been helping the state agency and the district work together.
"The most important thing is getting these places cleaned up because our kids' health is the most important," he said.
Toxic Substances Control tested the soil at Lorena, in Boyle Heights, and Rowan, in East L.A., over the last two years. The agency did not release its findings to the public; KPCC obtained them from L.A. Unified through a public records request.
Originally, three other schools were also flagged for having high levels of lead, but they have since been cleared by the state:
- Eastman Elementary - L.A. Unified removed and replaced contaminated soil around tree wells in the play area.
- Fishburn Elementary - The school district erected temporary fencing around trees and the front lawn as a precaution. Last week, the state concluded the levels there pose no harm to students and no cleanup is necessary.
- Huntington Park High School - The state determined that elevated lead levels there did not warrant cleanup or other precautionary measures because of the age of the students. While lead is toxic for all ages, it can do much more damage to young children.
Parent meetings are planned in the community this week to discuss the testing and cleanup. On Wednesday, parents of kids at Lorena and Rowan are invited to Stevenson Middle School at 5:30 p.m. Another meeting is scheduled at Fishburn on Thursday at 5:30 p.m.
Soil testing is ongoing at residential properties in the 1.7 mile radius around the plant and more cleanup is planned for next year, according to Toxic Substances Control.