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Elected leaders pledge to fight Vernon battery recycler

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Elected officials from cities across southeast Los Angeles County pledged Monday evening to marshal their political power to sway regulators to shut down a Vernon battery recycler that residents fear is harming their health because of arsenic and lead emissions.

"The solution ... is right here in this room," Huntington Park Councilwoman Karina Macias told a packed meeting hall at Resurrection Catholic Church in Boyle Heights. "More marches. More meetings like this one."

The crowd, including several children and a woman costumed in a hazmat suit, cheered their approval.

Residents and elected officials have been angered about Exide Technologies since spring, when the South Coast Air Quality Management District released a health-risk report showing that elevated arsenic emissions from the plant had posed an increased cancer risk to more than 110,000 people.

Air district officials said last week that the same health risk assessment showed that more than 250,000 people from Boyle Heights to Maywood and Huntington Park faced a "chronic hazard" from exposure to arsenic, including the possibility that children could suffer neurological effects. Air district officials stressed there is no evidence that such a large number of people have been harmed, only that they could be.

Exide officials, who could not be reached for comment Monday, have in the past said arsenic emissions have been reduced substantially since the high readings that triggered the health risk assessment were recorded.

Nevertheless, officials from Huntington Park, Maywood, Compton and Bell said they intend to fight the plant, including holding public protests, lobbying Congress to put pressure on the federal Environmental Protection Agency to step in and even trying to unseat a judge who ruled the plant could stay open.

"They're poisoning us," one woman said. "We need to unite."

Regulators have been struggling to address residents' environmental and health concerns about the plant for months.

When the air district first revealed the elevated cancer risk, regulators from the state Department of Toxic Substances Control moved to temporarily suspend plant operations.

But Exide, which filed for bankruptcy protection this summer, appealed in Los Angeles County Superior Court, arguing that the plant did not pose "an imminent and substantial" danger to the public and that regulators were acting capriciously under public and political pressure. A judge sided with the company, saying it could resume operations.

Last month, state officials announced that the company would begin testing to determine if dangerous metals have accumulated near the plant. In the past, regulators have found that lead dust had sprinkled down on rooftops and streets. Local officials said they are also exploring the possibility of testing residents' blood to determine if dangerous substances are present.

jessica.garrison@latimes.com

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
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