Community-Scientist Event: Mothers, Babies and the Environment

On Monday March 7, the USC Environmental Health Community Outreach Program hosted a luncheon event at the East Los Angeles Community Service Center. The aim of the event was to foster a dialogue between scientists researching impact of pollution and stress on maternal and child health with local organizations working on the ground to improve health and well-being of mothers and their families.

Community members, staff members from local community based organizations, as well as staff from local elected officials offices all participated. USC scientists who are part of the MADRES research project, presented information about the critical role of chemicals on the health of mothers and young children, the importance of research studies and the key role of the environment in health disparities.  The group heard presentations from Legacy LA, First 5 Los Angeles Best Start Community Partnership, Boyle Heights Beat, From Lot to Spot, Physicians for Social Responsibility-LA, and Clinica Romero. Also contributing to the discussion on behalf of local communities were representatives from the Boyle Heights Stakeholders Association, Mothers of East LA, Coalition for Clean Air, staff members representing Supervisor Hilda Solis’ and Congressman Xavier Becerra’s office, LAUSD, and local community organizer Martha Jimenez.

Presentations along with topic based roundtable discussions, sparked ideas and feedback about how to increase awareness in local communities and provide information. In general, to raise awareness about many of the topics discussed at the lunch event, participants suggested communication dissemination to include newspaper ads, radio announcements, local reports from the youth at Boyle Heights Beat to Spanish language media. USC also listened closely to community members as they suggested ideas of places and times in the community where people are already gathered as ideal to present important and timely health information that can be directly applied in their daily lives.

Based on the feedback and ideas heard at the event, the Community Outreach team will move forward to create new resources around the theme of “Women’s Wellness” focused on toxic exposures in the everyday environment, particularly in homes and products used in homes. From web and print content on various topics, to doing workshops about toxic products, the team will be seeking further input and collaboration from community groups in the coming months to refine their work to make it a helpful resource to the communities who are interested. Ongoing work of the Community Outreach team which includes community based air pollution monitoring and new areas of other toxic exposure monitoring will continue as groups express interest in these collaborations. The team, who has recently also started to be more involved in the planning and development of green spaces around Los Angeles, will continue to develop resources around this topic as well as see how to be a resource in environmental justice communities.

PRESS RELEASE: From California Governor Brown Proposes $176.6 Million Exide Cleanup Plan

Neighbors of a lead-acid battery recycler have long been concerned about the exposures at their homes and the health implications. The battery recycler, Exide, processed 11 million batteries per year and operated for decades without proper environmental review.  Lead (Pb) is a toxic substance found in many places, yet is also an extremely dangerous toxin to the brain.  Lead released into the air can deposit on the ground, where it will bind tightly to soil and persist for a long time.  Children may be exposed by getting lead on their hands through playing in yards or playgrounds, tracking in contaminated soil on shoes or pets into the house, and breathing contaminated windblown dusts.

The Outreach Program of the Southern CA Environmental Health Centers is involved in an active collaboration with local community organizations, agencies and policymakers to address the effects of the contamination due to Exide.  The Outreach Program is conducting a study to measure lead and other metals in baby teeth among children living in this community, which can show what a child was exposed to in early life and in the womb.


The smelter is located in a predominantly working poor community of color in southeast Los Angeles.  The governor announces today a major investment to address cleanup needs in the area.

“Our communities have been fighting Exide for decades, and with today’s announcement from Governor Brown, it is clear he has heard our calls for swift and comprehensive cleanup. Though this is not all of the cleanup funding we will need, this is the next step in the long road to justice on this issue. Governor Brown is sending a clear message that despite the state’s failure to ensure our communities were protected from Exide, the cleanup will be a priority for the state and Exide will be held liable. Our communities have had to push from the very beginning, and we will continue to advocate for a fully funded cleanup effort,” said mark! Lopez, Director of East Yard Communities for Environmental Justice.

Wednesday, February 17, 2016
Contact: Governor’s Press Office
(916) 445-4571

SACRAMENTO – Governor Edmund G. Brown Jr. today proposed a $176.6 million spending plan to fund expedited and expanded testing and cleanup of residential properties, schools, daycare centers and parks around the former Exide Technologies facility in Vernon, California.

“This Exide battery recycling facility has been a problem for a very long time,” said Governor Brown. “With this funding plan, we’re opening a new chapter that will help protect the community and hold Exide responsible.”

The Administration’s plan was detailed today in a Department of Finance letter sent to the California State Senate and Assembly Budget and Appropriations Committee chairs. The $176.6 plan will ensure all residential properties, schools, daycare centers and parks within the 1.7 mile radius of the Exide Technologies facility are tested and contaminated soil removed where lead levels are the highest and potential exposure the greatest. This plan expedites and expands efforts already underway and includes an exemption to the California Environmental Quality Act.

More information on the California Department of Toxic Substances Control’s testing and cleanup efforts in the communities near Exide can be found here.

The full text of the letter is copied below.

February 17, 2016

Honorable Mark Leno, Chair
Joint Legislative Budget Committee
Senate Budget and Fiscal Review Committee

Honorable Shirley Weber, Chair
Assembly Budget Committee

Honorable Ricardo Lara, Chair
Senate Appropriations Committee

Honorable Jimmy Gomez, Chair
Assembly Appropriations Committee

Notification of Intent to Fund through a Separate Appropriations Bill—Cleanup and Corrective Action in the Exide Technologies Residential Area

The purpose of this letter is to inform the Legislature of the Administration’s intent to pursue an additional appropriation in the amount of $176.6 million from the Toxic Substances Control Account to expedite sampling and cleanup of lead contamination in the residential area surrounding the Exide Technologies facility. The State will vigorously pursue Exide and other potential responsible parties to recover the costs of this cleanup.

Exide Technologies is located in the City of Vernon, about five miles southeast of downtown Los Angeles. The facility occupies 15 acres in a heavily industrial region with surrounding residential areas. Facility operations included recycling lead-bearing scrap materials obtained from spent lead-acid batteries. This facility ceased operations in 2014 and permanently closed after the Department of Toxic Substances Control notified Exide that its application for a new permit would be denied. The Department then ordered Exide to test and clean up residential properties and conducted its own testing.

The Department’s analysis indicates that releases from the facility deposited lead dust across an area of southeast Los Angeles County, resulting in contamination extending 1.7 miles from the facility and impacting up to 10,000 properties, including residences, parks, and schools.

In August 2015, $7 million of emergency funding was approved to test up to 1,500 residential properties, parks, schools, and daycare centers in the surrounding community; develop a comprehensive cleanup plan; and begin cleanup of the highest priority sites based on the degree of lead contamination and other exposure factors. To date, the Department has removed more than 10,000 tons of contaminated soil and analyzed more than 20,000 soil samples from hundreds of properties. The Department has also established an Advisory Group of community leaders, local residents, business leaders, scientists, and elected officials to help guide closure and cleanup efforts.

The Administration is now proposing additional funding in the amount of $176.6 million from the Toxic Substances Control Account to test the remaining properties, schools, daycare centers, and parks in the 1.7 mile radius and remove contaminated soil at the properties that have the highest lead levels and greatest potential exposure to residents. In addition, the Department will conduct specialized tests and analyses to conclusively identify the source of the contamination and hold Exide –and any other responsible parties – accountable.

For the purposes of expediting the cleanup of the contaminated sites, this proposal also includes an exemption to the California Environmental Quality Act. However, the Department will analyze and mitigate adverse impacts that may occur from the cleanup activities.

The plan provides resources to expand community engagement in the testing and cleanup process, enhance coordination and job training for community residents, and promote the use of local business and labor for contracting purposes.

The $176.6 million appropriation from the Toxic Substances Control Account will be supported by a loan from the General Fund. This loan will enable the Department to address the significant public health concerns in the communities surrounding the Exide Technologies facility in an expedited manner. However, cleanup costs initially incurred by the State will ultimately be sought from the parties responsible for the lead contamination.

In addition, the Governor is directing the Department to evaluate lead-acid batteries through a Hazardous Waste Reduction Initiative. The analysis could result in identifying lead batteries as a “Priority Product” under the Safer Consumer Products program, which will require manufacturers to evaluate the product’s health impacts and consider ways to reduce impacts.

Please call me or Ellen Moratti, Principal Program Budget Analyst, if you have any questions.