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For decades, families across a swath of southeast Los Angeles County have lived in an environmental disaster zone, their kids playing in yards polluted with brain-damaging lead while they wait on a state agency to remove contaminated soil from thousands of homes.

Now, the cleanup faces even greater uncertainty. A bankruptcy plan by Exide Technologies, which operated the now-closed lead-acid battery smelter in Vernon that is blamed for the pollution, would allow the site to be abandoned with the remediation unfinished.

The Trump administration, through the U.S. Department of Justice and the Environmental Protection Agency, has agreed not to oppose Exide’s plan, meaning that state taxpayers would be left with the bill for California’s largest environmental cleanup, which already stands at more than $270 million.

The proposal has sparked outrage among state regulators, elected officials and community groups in the largely working-class Latino neighborhoods around the plant. They are demanding the plan be scrapped before a court hearing scheduled for Thursday.

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