And now from the environmental justice files: the LA Times reports that Exide Technologies, a battery recycler located in Vernon, might be responsible for poisoning as many as 250,000 residents from Boyle Heights to Huntington Park. With lead. And arsenic. Exide will pay for residents to receive tests for lead poisoning, which will be administered by the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health on a "massive scale." Unfortunately, residents will have to wait to find out if Exide has endangered their health, because the blood testing won't begin until late next month, along with testing of dust and soil around the plant for lead and arsenic.
The testing will be hard-pressed to provide a satisfying resolution to this public health quagmire. For one, arsenic testing is unreliable, so the residents will only be tested for lead. Then there's the challenge of even proving that the Exide facility is responsible for the pollution, and how much of it: "The problem with Vernon is that it has so much industry," says John Froines, a toxicologist at the UCLA School of Public Health, to the LAT. "I'm sure you've got lots of sources of lead." Another depressing fact not mentioned by the LAT article is the plant's location adjacent to the LA River: whatever lead and arsenic the plant has been spewing into the environment has also likely floated downstream, into the Pacific Ocean. Locals have worried about Exide's lead emissions for years. Here's a timeline of relevant events, for those keeping track at home:
-- In 2008, officials at the South Coast Air Quality Management District "ordered the company to cut lead emissions, citing unacceptable health risks." Exide responded by enclosing facilities and installing negative air-pressure systems.
-- This spring, the South Coast Air Quality Management District found that elevated arsenic emissions from the plant increased the cancer risk for more than 110,000 people.
-- "The same risk assessment showed that more than 250,000 people from Boyle Heights to Maywood and Huntington Park faced a 'chronic hazard' from arsenic exposure, including the possibility of neurological effects on children."
-- The state Department of Toxic Substances Control tried to temporarily suspend plant operations, but Exide, now seeking bankruptcy protection this summer, was allowed by a judge in Los Angeles County Superior Court to resume operations.
Dr. Cyrus Rangan, the director of Public Health's Bureau of Toxicology told the LAT that testing would continue until "people stop wanting it." Exide, for their part, is not answering emails from the LA Times.
· Exide plant will pay for blood tests for residents [LA Times]