Anger reigned the California Assembly on Thursday as legislators authorized $176.6 million to clean up toxic contamination from a shuttered Exide battery plant in Vernon.
The plant had been operating on an interim status, without a traditional permit, for more than 30 years before the California Department of Toxic Substances Control shut it down in 2014. Subsequent studies estimated that between 5,000 and 10,000 nearby properties were potentially contaminated with lead and found elevated levels of lead in the blood of children living near the facility.
Outraged lawmakers upbraided Exide as they voted overwhelmingly to allocate cleanup dollars. Assemblywoman Cristina Garcia, D-Bell Gardens, said Exide should face criminal charges “for poisoning families in my backyard for so many generations.”
“What this bill is going to help begin to address is the most insidious form of environmental racism we have seen in Los Angeles County in the last 100 years,” Assemblyman Sebastian Ridley-Thomas, D-Los Angeles, calling the situation “a civil rights, a human rights and an environmental catastrophe.”
Struggling to control his emotions, Assemblyman Miguel Santiago, D-Los Angeles, who lives near the plant, recounted his son having to wear a mask to guard against the fallout.
“I will have to explain to my child down the line who did that,” Santiago said.