California’s Governor proposes $454 million to clean up Exide battery recycling plant

Former Exide battery recycling plant in Vernon, California

California Governor Gavin Newsom has earmarked up to $454 million in his revised budget to clean up lead and arsenic spread throughout southeast Los Angeles county by the former Exide battery recycling plant, reports.

The California Department of Toxic Substances Control estimates the toxic chemicals produced during Exide’s decades of operation spread up to 1.7 miles away, contaminating schools, parks and thousands of homes in the largely working-class, Latino neighborhoods of Bell, Boyle Heights, East Los Angeles, Maywood, Huntington Park and Commerce.

The Exide battery recycling plant, which produced a host of hazardous wastes as part of the process, operated for 33 years in Vernon without a permanent permit. It closed in 2015 as part of a nonprosecution agreement that allowed the company to avoid criminal charges.

Last year, a federal bankruptcy court and the U.S. Department of Justice allowed Exide to abandon the property without fulfilling the terms of the agreement, which required the company to demolish and clean up the shuttered facility. A court-appointed trustee with about $30 million in funds from the bankruptcy settlement is now in charge of remediating the property.

If that money runs out, Newsom’s proposal would provide $132 million in one-time funding to finish the work.

California already has spent $251 million on residential cleanup and other costs, according to the Governor’s Office. Under the proposal, the state would earmark another $322 million over three years to remove contamination from additional properties. DTSC estimates that money will allow the clean up of “roughly 2,740 properties with the highest levels of contamination and the highest risk of exposure being cleaned up to 200 parts per million,” according to a spokesperson.

“The proposal Governor Newsom announced today will help position California as a leader of contamination cleanup and hazardous waste management by making land safe and clean in vulnerable communities, and by providing swift action to deter and hold accountable irresponsible generators of hazardous waste,” said Meredith Williams, director of DTSC, in a statement.

DTSC filed a federal lawsuit in December against the former owners and operators of the plant in an attempt to recover the state’s costs from investigating and cleaning up the contamination. The budget revision includes about $16.5 million to support the state’s litigation and other efforts to pursue cost recovery from the responsible parties.

In a statement, Los Angeles County Supervisor Hilda Solis called the proposed funding a “monumental win for our communities.” The need for the funding is a result of the previous administration’s “unwillingness and failure to hold polluters accountable,” she said.

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