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Elevated Levels Of Lead Found In Five Schools By Former Exide Plant

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The Exide Technologies battery recycling plant in Vernon was shuttered in 2015 after it was discovered that it'd been contaminating the neighborhood with lead. In March of 2016 we reported that, when 1,000 properties near the former plant were tested, it was discovered that over 99 percent of them required lead clean-up.

Now, after more than a year later, we're still learning about the extent of the contamination. As reported by KPCC, the Department of Toxic Substances Control collected soil samples from 22 schools in 2014 and 2015 and found that five of the campuses have higher-than-normal levels of lead. The department alerted the Los Angeles Unified School District about the findings, but neither the agency or the school district have alerted the public the results.

Normally, the state removes soil from a property if lead levels are above 80 parts per million (ppm). At Fishburn Avenue Elementary School in Maywood, the soil was discovered to have lead levels ranging from 144 to 219 ppm. At Rowan Avenue Elementary School in East L.A, a tree well was discovered to have 105 ppm. Lorena Street Elementary School in Boyle Heights was also discovered to have elevated levels of lead.

According to scientists for the agency, soil removal is not always a given, because regulators take into account how often residents will be around the contaminated dirt. For schools, researchers consider the fact that children don't spend all day on the premises—they go home after school. Researchers also take the children's age into account.

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"The major concern is with kids who are under 7 because their brains are still developing when they are young," Sarah Cromie, a scientist at Toxic Substances Control, told KPCC.

As such, when Huntington Park High School was discovered to have lead levels of 100 to 110 ppm in its grass quad area, regulators decided that the levels weren't high enough to pose a risk to the teenage students.

Some argue that the testing is limited geographically. Julie Johnston, an environmental health professor at USC, noted that the samples from Huntington Park High were not taken from athletic fields. "They could get a lot of exposure during the time they are playing there," Johnston told KPCC.

Some changes have resulted from the findings, however. When Eastman Avenue Elementary in East Los Angeles was discovered to have lead levels of 220 to 688 ppm in two of its tree wells, L.A Unified paid $10,000 to have the dirt replaced.

Opened in 1922, the Exide plant used to melt lead from used car batteries to recycle them for new ones. According to the L.A. Times, the plant was allowed by state regulators to operate without a full permit, even though inspectors had run across more than 100 violations since 1990. This April the California Department of Public Health reported that 3.58 percent of the children living within a mile of the Exide plant had elevated lead levels in their blood; the rate was considered higher-than-normal when compared to children living outside of that radius. This February, Governor Jerry Brown pledged $176 million for clean-up efforts relating to Exide.

LAist has contacted L.A. Unified and is waiting for a response.

Update [5:25 p.m.]:

Elvia Perez Cano, who works in the Communications and Media Relations for Facilities at LAUSD, wrote back to us to say that the district is waiting on the Department of Toxic Substances Control for "direction and further mitigation." In a written statement, the district said:

According to DTSC, additional testing is necessary before a final determination is made at the remaining schools. DTSC’s current threshold level of 80 parts per million (ppm) of lead in soil is a screening level specific to residential properties. According to DTSC representatives, schools are assessed differently where exposures and cleanup recommendations are based on factors such as student’s age, how much time they spend at school and accessibility to areas where lead is present.

DTSC has not recommended mitigation measures at any District school at this time.