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Warning Issued After High Lead Levels Found Near Exide Battery Plant

California health officials this week issued a warning after newly released test results showed elevated levels of lead in the soil near an embattled battery recycling plant southeast of downtown Los Angeles.

filephoto Exide Technologies Vernon

File photo of Exide Technologies in Vernon (Credit: KTLA)

Concerns over contamination from the Exide Technologies plant in Vernon prompted the Department of Toxic Substances Control to begin testing the soil in neighboring Boyle Heights and Maywood. Those results were made public Monday.

The 39 homes and two schools that were tested had amounts of lead that exceeded 80 parts per million, the level at which California recommends further health evaluations be undertaken, the Los Angeles Times reported.

A sample at a preschool — America Salazar Park Head Start School in East Los Angeles — was higher than expected, but DTSC stressed in an email that the elevated level was only found in one location at the school and was 1 to 3 inches down into the soil.

DTSC ordered Exide to submit plans for additional sampling and for how it will address lead concentrations in the homes’ yards, the agency announced Monday.

“Priority will be given to homes occupied by pregnant women or children, and where soil concentrations may represent a potential threat to human health or the environment,” DTSC stated in a notice to the community.

Among other recommendations for families, the agency warned parents to keep children away from bare soil and make sure children wash their hands, especially when coming inside from outdoors. Doormats should be kept both outside and inside of exterior doors, DTSC stated.

school

Volunteers of America Salazar Park Head Start
School had higher than expected levels of lead in recent soil-sample testing, according to DTSC. (Credit: KTLA)

The plant opened in 1922, according to DTSC, and is one of only two such battery-recycling facilities in the Western U.S. It recycles about 25,000 batteries a day and about 8 million a year, according to Exide.

Exide has been under scrutiny from local activists and elected officials since the South Coast Air Quality Management District last year said that arsenic emissions from the plant caused elevated cancer risk for more than 100,000 people nearby, the Times reported.

Last October, Exide agreed to invest $7 million in upgrades after DTSC began its investigation. The soil sampling was part of that agreement.

Consumer Watchdog, a Santa Monica-based advocacy group, on Tuesday called on Gov. Jerry Brown to force state regulators to require Exide to clean up the homes where lead contamination was found. Brown had spoken to DTSC officials about the case on Monday, according to Consumer Watchdog.

DTSC “is either unable or unwilling to take real action,” Consumer Watchdog said in a statement.

Exide officials told the Times that they are reviewing the findings of the soil tests.

“Exide is studying the department’s response and will work cooperatively to conduct the requested additional sampling and the interim cleanup measures,” the company said in a statement, according to the Times. “The health and safety of the community, as well as its workforce, are important to Exide, and the company is committed to investing in the Vernon facility to further reduce emissions and protect public health.”

DTSC planned an open house to discuss the soil testing from 6 to 9 p.m. on Wednesday, March 19 at Resurrection Church, 3324 E. Opal St., Los Angeles.

KTLA’s Melissa Pamer, Kareen Wynter and Tracy Bloom contributed to this article.