Over 4,980 properties have been cleaned up within the 1.7-mile radius of the Exide recycling plant in Vernon, after the now-closed facility contaminated miles of Southeast LA with lead. 

Now, residents with complaints and comments about the clean-up can submit their feedback online. 

An online public feedback system created for folks to report issues and comments related to the Exide Technologies residential cleanups is up and running, the state’s Department of Toxic Substances Control (DTSC) announced on Feb. 15 at the YMCA in Maywood. About 90 people attended the in-person and online meeting.

The feedback system arrives after more than eight years of efforts from community members to hold the process of hiring environmental contractors and conducting the cleanings accountable to residents, said mark! Lopez, community organizer and special projects coordinator with East Yard Communities for Environmental Justice.

The cleanup feedback system permits residents from Maywood, Boyle Heights, Commerce, East Los Angeles, and Huntington Park, the neighborhoods that took the brunt of the lead emissions during the Vernon facility’s (most recently operated by Exide Technologies) nearly 100 years of operations, to leave feedback or report issues on the phone at (844) 225-3887.

Available at the Exide cleanup project website www.dtsc.ca.gov/exide-home/, the cleanup feedback system also allows folks who speak and read Spanish to submit comments and documents, and include personal data if they wish to be contacted by staff.

Feedback is “an issue, a question, a comment, a complaint, a request, essentially anything related to any aspect of the Exide cleanup project,” said Brian Strand, Senior Environmental Scientist with the DTSC.

The DTSC also unveiled the addition of third-party monitors, who will be assigned to speak to residents and document cases about lax cleanups, or concerns voiced at previous meetings such as contractors mistreating residents and workers, verbal fights with cleanup employees, damage to water and sewage pipes, and other issues.

“The whole purpose is that we want to collect, in a cohesive way, what people want us to follow up on, and who are we assigning it to, so that there is a very transparent way for the third party monitor to report out publicly,” said Allison Wescott, Deputy Director of Communications with the DTSC.

About 90 residents attended the Exide Public Hybrid meeting at the YMCA Maywood on Feb. 15, 2024, organized by the California Department of Toxic Substances Control. (Alfredo Santana / LA Public Press)

The feedback system will provide information to DTSC staff they are responsible for following up, said Wescott. 

Lopez praised the feedback system and said it would allow residents to pick up patterns of behavior among contractors and the state agency.

“It’s also an accessible tool for community residents. At this point, [reaching out to the DTSC] has been based on the willingness of residents to push back, or to contact us, and then we sought the agency to repair any issues,” said Lopez, also a member of the Exide Technologies Advisory Group team. 

On the cleanup work, DTSC Director Meredith Williams said existing funds will cover the cleaning of 5,940 parcels by March 31, 2025.

In 2016, former Gov. Jerry Brown approved the allocation of $176.6 million to kick start the residential cleanups, followed by $322.4 million approved by Gov. Gavin Newsom in 2021 to complete removal of tainted soil in lots with lead concentrations above 200 parts per million. 

Williams said the DTSC has prioritized cleaning the dirtiest lots, and said that currently there are no additional funds to remove and replace soil on up to 10,100 properties identified as being tainted with lead levels from around 80 to 200 ppm. 

The agency also has $67 million to detoxify 6,400 parkways, or the strips of land found between sidewalks and streets often covered with grass and plants.  

Todd Sax, DTSC Deputy Director, said the agency has recently implemented a series of measures to improve communication with tenants, property owners, cleanup workers and other stakeholders and be more transparent about the entire cleaning process.

Among the improvements are revamping the project’s website, and phasing in health and safety procedures that require workers to dress up for work at the cleaning sites, and fully undress before leaving for home to avoid carrying pollutants to their families. 

“We are trying to understand and address concerns to make cleanups more effective,” said Sax.