The California Department of Toxic Substances Control has borrowed $7 million from other hazardous waste cleanups in the state to pursue testing and lead contamination removal in a larger area around the closed Exide lead battery recycling plant in Vernon. But that money is only a stopgap solution, officials say.
Exide Technologies shut its plant down for good earlier this year under settlements with federal and state authorities. The March agreement added $38.9 million to around $11 million that the Department of Toxic Substances Control had secured earlier, creating a fund of around $50 million to pay for the safe closure and dismantling of the facility at 2700 South Indiana Avenue in Vernon.
Exide was also required to set aside around $9 million to clean up 219 homes just north and south of the plant in Boyle Heights and Maywood.
At the time, Exide was in Chapter 11. A Delaware bankruptcy court has now approved its reorganization plan, allowing the company to write off around $600 million of its debt while putting Exide under the control of its major lenders.
New test results released late last week suggest lead contamination, possibly from Exide, extends much farther than the two neighborhoods identified in the March cleanup agreement. The results are only preliminary, so the Department of Toxic Substances Control hasn’t decided whether Exide must pay to remove that contamination.
Without a responsible party on whom to hang the cost, DTSC director Barbara Lee says she borrowed from other hazardous waste cleanups around the state to deal with the newly disclosed contamination.
But she knows those loans aren’t a permanent fix.
“The administration understands that we need an ongoing resource base to make sure the cleanups continue to happen around the Exide facility, and we don’t want that to happen at the expense of other sites that also need cleanup done,” she said.
Lee has offered no estimate for the total cost of expanded testing and cleanup. In the initial effort, covering 219 homes, she says removing lead-tainted soil has averaged around $39,000 per house. But she also says Southern California could learn some lessons from a larger and similar cleanup in Nebraska, reducing the cost per cleanup that could include hundreds more or even thousands more properties.