Fellows in the News

For decades, families across a swath of southeast Los Angeles County have lived in an environmental disaster zone, their kids playing in yards polluted with brain-damaging lead while they wait on a state agency to remove contaminated soil from thousands of homes.

Now, the cleanup faces even greater uncertainty. A bankruptcy plan by Exide Technologies, which operated the now-closed lead-acid battery smelter in Vernon that is blamed for the pollution, would allow the site to be abandoned with the remediation unfinished.

The Trump administration, through the U.S. Department of Justice and the Environmental Protection Agency, has agreed not to oppose Exide’s plan, meaning that state taxpayers would be left with the bill for California’s largest environmental cleanup, which already stands at more than $270 million.

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“I’m not surprised that Exide has continued to find ways to avoid paying for the cleanup,” said Idalmis Vaquero, a member of the group Communities for a Better Environment who lives in a Boyle Heights public housing complex within the cleanup zone that has not yet been treated for lead contamination. “I’m also really frustrated by the incompetence, slow cleanup and the lack of legal power that [the Department of Toxic Substances Control] is willing to exercise.”

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