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Climate and Environment

CA Officials Request Federal Help To Clean Up Lead And Toxins Near Former Vernon Battery Facility

A funnel of smoke rises over a waterway in an industrial-looking neighborhood at sunrise.
Sunrise over Vernon, where the Exide plant was located.
(Britta Gustafson
LAist Featured Photos pool on Flickr)
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Thousands of people live near the former Exide Technologies battery recycling plant in Vernon. For years, they've waited for lead and other toxins spread by the company to be cleaned up.

Now, California officials are asking for the area to designated as a federal Superfund site.

Jared Blumenfeld, the state's Secretary for Environmental Protection, said the designation could bring in millions of federal dollars to clean up what he calls "one of the most toxic lead-contaminated sites in the country."

"A Superfund designation would expedite cleanup of Exide's poisonous legacy," he said, "with the community finally receiving the national attention they deserve."

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Exide Technologies declared bankruptcy and abandoned the site in 2020. By then, the neighborhood had contended with dangerous contamination for decades, with no end in sight.

Terry Gonzalez, who lives near the site of the former facility, blames the contamination for health problems she and family members have suffered over the years, and is still waiting for her home to be decontaminated.

Gonzalez has "mixed feelings" about the Superfund request, and worries it may result in further delays to the cleanup process.

"Our needs have not changed, whether it's at state or federal level," she said. "What we have to worry about is who's going to actually do the job, who's going to stick with us and clean up the area."

Assemblymember Wendy Carrillo said this "environmental disaster" has been ignored because it happened in a "low-income community" made up of largely of Spanish speaking Latino immigrants.

"Had this happened in a more affluent community, in a white community, in a community that had more vocal representation with the constituents, it would have been a different story," she said.

Carrillo called it "incredibly frustrating and infuriating" that the public is being forced to pick up the tab for a "corporate polluter," and added that the focus coming to the issue now is long overdue.

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