Community Celebrates Bill Expanding Lead Poisoning Clean

Monday, November 25, 2019

Clean Up’s to be Expedited Statewide

(Commerce) – At least 16 communities in California, eight of which are in Los Angeles, have been exposed to man-made environmental lead disasters.  Today, one community celebrated with elected officials, community activists and affected families during a press conference touting the recent passage of legislation and budget funding that will expand and expedite clean-up remediation’s statewide.

The legislation, AB 142, by Assemblywoman Cristina Garcia (D-Bell Gardens) will increase the fee battery manufacturers pay from $1 to $2 and mandates all homes be cleaned up prior to repayment of the 2016 general fund loan of $176.6 originally set up to clean up less than 1/4 of the affected homes.  In coordination with Los Angeles County Supervisor Hilda Solis (District 1), an additional $74.5 million was secured this year for expedited clean up’s through the State General Fund Budget.

“Finally, we have a mechanism in place to leave no one behind by  providing urgent and ongoing funding for clean-up of this preventable, man-made environmental disaster that has plagued my community,” said Cristina Garcia.  “This is about environmental justice and ensuring we protect future generations of kids from the horrible effects of lead exposure.  It’s a personal issue for me and the communities I represent and live in.  Creating an expanded clean-up fund that puts the people affected by these poisonings—often poor, working class communities of color—is long overdue.  Every community deserves clean air, clean water and safe playgrounds.”

Exide, the former operator of a battery facility located in Vernon, CA, was believed to be the cause of a massive lead contamination found in surrounding communities, has declared bankruptcy in California making the recovery of cleanup costs difficult. Decontamination of the production site alone is estimated at $500 million to $1 billion.

“For far too long, hard working families near Exide suffered due to years of prolonged exposure to dangerously high levels of lead that harmed many pregnant women and children,” said Los Angeles County Supervisor Hilda L. Solis. “I thank Assemblywoman Cristina Garcia for AB 142 which will help lead-contaminated sites receive additional funds to expedite cleanup efforts. I am also grateful Gov. Newsom signed AB 142 into law, and that he included $74.5 million in the state’s budget to accelerate the cleanup of homes affected by Exide. Together, we are prioritizing environmental justice and helping our communities heal.”

The effects of improper disposal, production, and recycling of lead-acid batteries are detrimental to communities. Lead contamination has severe consequences, especially for young children and pregnant mothers, including cancer, birth defects, and other reproductive harm. No levels of lead exposure are safe for humans.

“With more than 3,000 children in LA County with elevated blood lead levels each year, more must be done to eliminate dangerous exposures to lead in soil, homes and schools,” said Dr. Barbara Ferrer, Director, Los Angeles County Department of Public Health. “AB 142, in concert with Supervisor Solis’ work securing millions of dollars in funding to expedite the cleanup process, will help ensure that communities exposed to toxic lead have the resources to mitigate and prevent additional exposures that have harmful health consequences for women and children. We applaud Assemblywoman Garcia and Supervisor Solis for their extraordinary leadership on this effort and for their constant dedication to the wellbeing of communities across Los Angeles.”

Garcia succeeded in passing legislation in 2016 (AB 2153) which reallocated small portion of an existing fee on new batteries purchased by consumers and sold by manufactures.  That fee created a Lead Acid Battery Clean Up Fund to compensate toxic contamination clean-up’s in thousands of homes throughout California through the Department of Toxic Substance Control (DTSC).  There are at least 16 smelting sites in California communities that have tested positive for lead that would be eligible for Battery Fee funding.

In 2018 the governor took initial fee proceeds from the 2016 legislation fund to pay back the General Fund loan instead of allowing funds to accrue for clean-up efforts.  Assemblywoman Garcia and the local environmental justice community felt that move was afoul of the legislative intent in AB 2153.  Today’s legislation seeks to clarify that intent by mandating the clean-ups prior to General Fund repayment.

Assemblymember Miguel Santiago (D-53) and Assemblywoman Wendy Carrillo (D-51) were co-authors of this legislation which received consensus support from industry and environmental justice advocates.  The bill will likely serve as a model for other man-made disaster remediation’s given its inceptive policy and funding mechanism structure. 

“Protecting the health and well-being of my constituents living in the fallout zone of Exide’s negligence is paramount,” said Assemblymember Miguel Santiago (D-Los Angeles). “Since the plant shut down four years ago, we have fought to secure millions of dollars from the state for cleanup efforts. But there is still much work to be done. That is why I am a proud coauthor of AB 142 and applaud my colleague Assemblymember Cristina Garcia for securing this vital funding source for our communities to continue a thorough, rapid cleanup.”

“Disenfranchised communities have suffered from environmental harms and injustice impacting the health of our families and children for far too long,” said Assemblymember Wendy Carrillo (D-Los Angeles). “Toxic waste and contamination caused by lack of oversight needs to managed and cleaned up. With AB 142, which I am proud to co-author, there will no longer be the excuse that the funds don’t exist. This is about justice for our most vulnerable residents regardless of economic status or where they live.”

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The 58th Assembly District includes the cities of Montebello, Pico Rivera, Commerce, Bell Gardens, Downey, Norwalk, Bellflower, Cerritos and Artesia.