State officials have ordered a Vernon battery recycler to begin testing dust and soil at properties in the neighborhoods around its plant to see if dangerous substances have gathered there and are posing a health risk to the community, officials announced Tuesday.
The order comes a few months after the state Department of Toxic Substances Control was thwarted in its effort to temporarily shutter the Exide Technologies plant on the grounds that it posed "an unacceptable risk to public health."
The state had ordered the facility closed in April, after an analysis released by the South Coast Air Quality Management District showed arsenic was posing an increased cancer risk to as many as 110,000 people from Boyle Heights to Maywood and Huntington Park.
But Exide appealed the order, arguing that it had fixed much of its arsenic emissions problem and that regulators were acting under public and political pressure. A Los Angeles County Superior Court judge sided with the company, and said Exide could keep operating until a full hearing this fall.
The move outraged residents and community groups near the plant, who fear the company’s operations are harming their health and believe regulators have failed to protect them.
Now state officials are moving ahead with a series of orders they issued in April as part of a cleanup plan, including an effort to determine whether arsenic, lead and other substances that were released from the facility in the past may have accumulated on nearby properties.
Officials said in a statement that they want to “learn more about the cumulative health effects of Exide’s past practices,” information they said will help shape how they regulate the facility in the future.
“We want to bring assurance to the community that if contaminants from the facility are in their yard, Exide will clean them up,” said Brian Johnson, deputy director of the department’s Hazardous Waste Management Program.
DTSC officials said dust sampling will begin Thursday, and soil sampling by Oct. 1. Findings are due by Nov. 15.