East and southeast Los Angeles County residents had an opportunity Saturday to have a say in the process to decontaminate their homes and other properties tainted with lead from the now shuttered Exide plant in Vernon, in what is expected to be California’s largest cleanup effort ever.
However, while more than 100,000 people may have been put at risk from the toxic exposure, only about a dozen people showed up to the first meeting where their comments on how to go about removing the contamination from their homes would actually be on the record.
Lea este artículo en Español: Pocos Residentes Asisten a Reunión de Limpieza Residencial de Exide
For some residents, Saturday’s meeting at Raul R. Perez Memorial Park in Huntington Park was the first Exide-related meeting they had ever attended. For others, it was the first time they would hear that their homes and families could possibly be in danger from exposure to cancer-causing arsenic and lead.
Lucia Kikunaga of Maywood told officials from the Department of Toxic Substance Control she was stunned when she received the mailer informing her of the meeting and that there could possibly be toxic chemicals in her home.
Kikunaga’s revelation was surprising given that there have been dozens of meetings and hearings over the last two years regarding the health hazard caused by the battery recycling plan in Vernon. Hundreds of hours of testimony and protests have taken place to date.
Of the handful of residents who spoke Saturday, a majority expressed concern over what they claim is a lack of outreach to their community.
“Public outreach is a key component in our efforts to keep the community informed about the Exide cleanup,” DTSC Spokesman Sandy Nax told EGP, responding to the criticism. “We use a variety of methods to communicate in both English and Spanish.”
The state agency has sent out thousands of postcards, canvassed neighborhoods, set up drop-in information centers, a hotline and used social media to reach out to residents in the impacted areas, he added.
Yet, Kikunaga wasn’t the only person at the meeting to say they were unaware of the Exide catastrophe or efforts to clean up the aftermath.
“I always knew there was major pollution in our communities because we live in an industrial area, but this is very serious,” longtime Maywood resident Zoila Flores said in disbelief.
DTSC plans to test the soil of 10,000 properties within 1.7-miles of the Exide plant and to clean the 2,500 homes with the highest levels of lead by July 2018. Under the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA), before cleanup can begin DTSC must prepare an environmental impact report that will disclose the potential effects of mitigation efforts such as soil removal and transporting tainted material away from properties in Bell, Boyle Heights, Commerce, East Los Angeles, Huntington Park and Vernon.
On Saturday, it was clear that residents like Leonor Casillas still need basic information before they can begin to give input into what the cleanup process should look like.
Casillas told DTSC staff she had no idea there could be lead in the backyard of her Maywood home. She’s worried there may be a correlation with her husband’s cancer.
“What are the health impacts? And what else is going on in our area,” she asked Saturday.
DTSC, the lead regulatory agency charged with the cleanup, has already tested more than 2,000 homes and cleaned up over 200 homes within the preliminary investigation area, according to the agency. Residents from surrounding areas have repeatedly asked that DTSC expand the area where they are testing properties for lead, claiming the danger is much wider spread.
A second meeting to gather input from the public will be held today, June 30 at 6:30p.m at Commerce City Hall.
The EIR process, which involves public review, meetings and hearings, is expected to be completed around July 2017, a timeline state officials call “aggressive.” EIRs tend to take at least a year and a half, says DTSC’s Kimberly Hudson.
“It is common to extend the public review period,” she added, meaning the process could go longer if community members feel more input is required.
In the meantime, Flores told DTSC they should not forget about impacted areas like Maywood, just because it’s home to a large Latino and undocumented population,
“With so much effort we have been paying for our homes,” she said about the struggle to buy a home. “When it comes to selling our homes, what is going to happen,” she asked, worried the contamination could cause her home value to drop.
“Some of us are scared because we don’t know what the cleanup process is and we don’t want our properties taken from us,” echoed Manuel Borjas, referring to the fear among some residents that the process could lead to them losing their homes through eminent domain or being forced to leave their homes for a long period.
DTSC officials, however, assured Borjas and others in the room that the cleanup process takes less than 5 days and homes would not be damaged or taken through eminent domain.
“Well I don’t see any of that in your packet,” responded Borjas. “That is very important information for the people in my community who are not here because they are scared,” he said.
Looking around the room and seeing so few residents present, Kikunaga told EGP that residents must to do their part to hold the state accountable.
“I know nuestra raza, I tried to encourage my neighbors to attend and some just don’t care.”Posted - Copyright © 2022 Eastern Group Publications, Inc.