Los Angeles County supervisors voted Tuesday to create a county "strike team" that will target facilities that emit toxic pollutants — the first being the Exide Technologies battery-recycling plant in Vernon.
The team of county public-health officials, prosecutors, fire department officials and others will look for ways to close the plant. The facility is operating on a temporary permit.
The county staff members will also use state data to identify which communities have the greatest health risk because of toxic chemicals and which facilities are emitting toxic pollutants in those communities.
Supervisor Gloria Molina, whose district includes the Exide facility, said the move will allow the county to address polluting facilities without waiting for the state to act.
"We are at the mercy of these state agencies who are unfortunately just not moving quickly enough to get us in the direction to shut down these toxic facilities," she said.
In January the South Coast Air Quality Management District sued Exide for $40 million, accusing the company of exposing more than 100,000 people to cancer-causing chemicals.
State officials said Monday that they had found elevated levels of lead in the soil of homes and a preschool near the facility, prompting them to issue a health alert. The state also ordered Exide to come up with a plan to expand testing and to protect children and pregnant women.
"How do you tell a child not to play in the dirt? That's part of being a child," said Monsignor John Moretta of Resurrection Catholic Church in Boyle Heights.
Exide officials said the plant is a source of green jobs and is investing in plant upgrades to better control pollution.
Plant manager John Hogarth said Exide "has been working cooperatively with regulators" and has made significant strides in reducing emissions of arsenic.
"The health of the community is our top priority," he said.
Delores Mejia, a coordinator with the community group Eastside Coalition Against Exide, appeared at the meeting wearing a dust mask and carrying a cutout of a skull with the phrase "Exide Kills" written on it.
"I'm pleased that we're taking the first step," she said of the board's action, although she said she thought the county needed to include community voices on the strike team and should set up an environmental ethics review board.