It's Still Going to Be a While Before Exide Victims 'Rest Easier'

Dandelion seeds blowing from stem
Dandelion seeds blowing from stem

After it was announced yesterday that Governor Jerry Brown committed $176.6 million to test and decontaminate the 1.7 mile lead-infected community impacted by the now-closed Exide battery plant, a reporter asked me if I would "finally rest easier?"

Justice, both environmental and economic, for this low-income and predominantly Latino community has been a priority of mine since I joined the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors just over a year ago.

Governor Brown took brave and much-needed action. And I -- and the community -- are incredibly grateful to him. His proposal is very welcomed news and will have a huge impact on the lives and future generations of a too often voiceless and overlooked community.

But "rest easier?" No, I'm not quite there yet.

The funding (actually a loan from the people of California, as we will recoup the money from Exide down the road) will be used to clean up the nearly 3000 homes --along with schools, parks, day care and other facilities--in the neighborhoods near where the battery recycling facility once operated.

That's an excellent start . . . but there are still about 7000 additional homes that may be contaminated. Those families deserve the peace of mind that only testing of their homes and the removal of lead contamination can bring. As long as the lead is still in the ground and inside their homes, they are in danger.

There are also consequences that cleaning will never cure. Even though Exide has ceased operations, residents in the area will live the rest of their lives with a heighten risk of cancer and other illnesses.

Exposure to high lead levels can cause lead poisoning, which can affect the brain, kidneys, liver and other organs. Children under the age of six and pregnant women are at the highest risk. Kids cannot play in their own back yards (or inside their homes for that matter) as they risk lead poisoning from ingesting or breathing excessive lead levels from contaminated soils in yards and lead dust in homes. We know that lead poisoning can seriously impact a child's growth, learning and behavior. And for pregnant women, it can cause high blood pressure, premature birth and miscarriage. For many residents, it is likely that this damage has already been done.

The testing and cleanup is just the half of it. We need to make sure that something like this never happens again. A good place to start: why did this happen in the first place?

We can't "rest easier" until someone explains why Exide was allowed to operate on a temporary permit for more than three decades, despite numerous acts of felony misconduct. What exactly went on there? And who exactly allowed what has been described as "one of the most shocking cases of corporate irresponsibility and government regulatory failure in California history."

Yesterday we got action... but we are still waiting for answers.