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Lead found in soil of homes near Exide plant; health alert issued

Environmental IssuesFamilyExide Technologies

Elevated levels of lead have been found in the soil of homes and a preschool near a battery recycling plant in southeast Los Angeles, prompting officials to issue health precautions and order expanded testing in additional neighborhoods.

State toxics officials said the initial testing of 39 homes and apartments as well as two schools concerned them enough that they ordered Exide Technologies to create a plan for more testing and to protect children and pregnant women living in the area.

This marks the first time state officials have found widespread ground contamination in residential areas near Exide. The testing occurred this year in  Boyle Heights and Maywood.

The state found that every home tested had lead contamination in the soil that exceeded California’s screening level of 80 parts per million. One home in Boyle Heights had samples above 580 parts per million. The preschool, which is farther north, was at 95 parts per million.

State officials stressed that those levels do not pose an acute  risk for adults living there. The pollution is a “concern” for children and pregnant woman, and officials said they were calling residents Monday to tell them stay away from bare soil, wash their hands and grow vegetables only in raised beds.

“This is not an emergency situation, but we are still concerned and demanding that Exide take actions to protect public health,” said Brian Johnson, deputy director of the California Department of Toxic Substance Control.

Officials plan to hold a community meeting March 19 at Resurrection Church in Boyle Heights to discuss the testing.

Exide has been the subject of much debate in the year since the South Coast Air Quality Management District issued a study showing that  its arsenic emissions posed a danger to more than 100,000 nearby residents. Exide also been cited repeatedly for releasing unsafe levels of lead into the air.

Testing did not show elevated levels of arsenic in any of the yards.

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Twitter: @latimesjessicag
jessica.garrison@latimes.com

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