Lead And Arsenic Pollution In East Los Angeles

A public hearing is scheduled to discuss how to clean up a chronically lead-contaminated site in East Los Angeles, home to thousands of working class, minority families.  On Friday, January 10, 2014, at 9 a.m., the South Coast Air Quality Management District (SCAQMD) will take action on their staff’s proposed rule 1420.1, which would impose new limits on lead and arsenic emissions from the two lead-acid battery recyclers in the South Coast air basin:  Exide and Quemetco.  I discussed some of background of the Exide situation here.  You can read the staff report for the proposed rule here.  Warning:  it’s over 500 pages. 

Simply put, the proposed regulation sets limits on how much lead and arsenic Exide and Quemetco can emit into the air and requires certain operational practices within these facilities.  The rule is better than the current status, but in my view, not good enough.

As if arsenic and lead in the air weren't bad enough, another major health threat for communities near Quemetco and Exide is from children ingesting those toxins once they fall to the ground and are tracked into homes.  Historically, SCAQMD has not been interested in soil contamination, but here the soil is contaminated because SCAQMD has allowed Exide and Quemetco to emit far more of these substances than is safe; the emitted poisons then fall to the ground where they can be available to children and others.  While the Department of Toxic Substances Control (DTSC) is the agency that is supposed to deal with contaminated soil, DTSC is notoriously ineffective and can’t be relied on to protect the East L.A. community.

So that leaves SCAQMD to do the work.  We and Communities For A Better Environment have suggested in our comment letters (you can read them here and here) that there should be no emissions of lead until all lead contamination in the community at levels greater than 80mg/kg (the California health-protective screening level for lead) have been removed.  Anything short of that will allow the local communities to continue to be poisoned. 

However, proposed rule 1420.1 would allow Exide and Quemetco to emit a collective total of 788 pounds of lead each year.  I am hoping that the SCAQMD Governing Board will recognize  this problem and do all it can to protect the local communities when it votes on the proposed rule this Friday.

I’ll be at the hearing and will report from there.  You can follow me on Twitter at @TeamAir for updates.