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LA County Sues Trucking Company It Alleges Leaked Lead And Arsenic Throughout California

Community members stand with L.A. County Department of Health Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer (top, second from left) and L.A. County Supervisor Hilda Solis (bottom, second from left) after the lawsuit announcement. (Emily Elena Dugdale/LAist)
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A lawsuit filed Thursday against a trucking company by L.A County and District Attorney Jackie Lacey alleges the company improperly transported more than 128,000 pounds of contaminated plastic battery chips from the former Exide Technologies plant in Vernon, throughout the state of California.

The lawsuit, announced by L.A. County Supervisor Hilda Solis at a news conference, claims contaminants like lead and arsenic leaked from battery casings transported by Wiley Sanders Truck Lines vehicles. Those contaminants spread onto the ground, roads and freeways in predominantly working-class communities, including some in L.A County.

The cargo was ultimately headed to a plastics facility in Bakersfield.


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Exide Technologies in Vernon, Calif. pictured in 2013, two years before it was shut down. (Mae Ryan / KPCC)

Solis called the issue one of California's "biggest and most expensive" environmental crises.

The truck leakages have been going on for over 20 years -- they violate California's hazardous waste control law, in addition to public nuisance laws.

"I refer to it as our Flint, Michigan, unfortunately," she said at a press conference outside of the L.A. County Hall of Administration. "And it's not something I'm proud of."

Community members from some of the affected neighborhoods stood behind her during the announcement, holding blue, white and red signs that read, "Justice for our Families."

Wiley Sanders Truck Lines, which is headquartered in Alabama, did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

The former Exide plant -- which closed in 2015 -- has been embroiled in problems for years, connected to the high level of contaminants found in the soil beneath their facility in Vernon, which is about five miles south of downtown L.A.


Diana del Pozo-Mora, right, puts a gas mask on her seven-year-old daughter, Josephine Mora, during a 2013 town hall meeting about Exide Technologies, a lead-recycling plant in Vernon. (Maya Sugarman / KPCC)

Toxic contaminants in particular have been found near schools, in public spaces and even inside homes. The chemicals have been linked to developmental disabilities in children, and damage to the central nervous system.

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L.A. County is currently in the process of cleaning up thousands of affected residential properties, but some residents say help hasn't come fast enough.

In 2018, the state's Department of Toxic Substances Control said it would take two more years to finish removing lead from all 2,500 properties near the former Exide plant.

That doesn't include the properties that were contaminated along the trucking routes.

Boyle Heights resident Jose Gonzalez said contaminated trucks went through his neighborhood, leaving local families like his to deal with the aftermath.

His own nephew has developmental disabilities that he believes are a result of chemical exposure to the leakages.

"He's 32, but he'll always be 7," Gonzalez said, "and this is a scene that's played over time and time and time again in these neighborhoods."

As part of a new settlement agreement, Wiley Sanders Truck Lines will no longer be allowed to transport hazardous waste in the state. They'll also pay $1.8 million to L.A. County Department of Health for public outreach programs in affected neighborhoods.

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