Ending the week on a particularly grim note, the State Department of Public Health released a new analysis Friday that shows that children living within a mile of the site of the former Exide battery recycling plant in Vernon have significantly higher amounts of lead in their blood than those living farther away. The study found that 3.58 percent of these children had elevated lead levels in their system, as opposed to 2.41 percent living within 4.5 miles of the facility and 1.95 percent in all of Los Angeles County, as reported by the LA Times.
The high levels of lead can't be completely blamed on the disastrous mess that the plant created while it was in operation; officials have noted that many of the homes in the area were constructed before 1978, when lead-based paint was banned from use in houses. But USC preventative medicine professor Jill Johnston tells the Times that the report strongly suggests that the battery recycler is at least partly to blame. "While there are multiple sources of contamination harming southeast Los Angeles children, this report indicates that those living near Exide face an increased burden of lead, likely associated with the facility," she said.
In children, exposure to lead can impact growth and development and cause damage to the brain and nervous system. According to the Centers for Disease Control, there is no safe blood lead level for children.
Earlier this week, state legislators introduced a plan to spend more than $175 million testing homes close to the plant and cleaning the most severely contaminated. The facility shut down in March of last year, after cutting a deal with the US Attorney in which the company admitted it had been illegally storing and transporting hazardous materials for years and agreed to pay for cleanup costs. As part of the deal, Exide Technologies will not face any criminal charges for the damage caused by its plant.