VERNON (CBSLA.com) — While dozens of homeowners near the Exide battery plant wait for test results from the soil surrounding their homes, a CBS2 investigation has uncovered evidence of hazardous waste spilling onto public highways and into storm drains that feed the L.A. River.
A sample of the soil surrounding 39 homes near the Exide Corp. plant in the 2700 block of South Indiana Avenue tested positive for lead contamination earlier this year, prompting the Department of Toxic Substances Control to order cleanup.
CBS2's Randy Paige has uncovered public documents that tell a much bigger story, however, including evidence of contamination in the streets and sidewalks surrounding the plant, contamination reaching into the storm drains that lead to the L.A. River and contamination leaking off the back of trucks carrying hazardous waste onto public streets.
Among the findings, the CHP stopped a truck carrying contaminated waste from Exide in 2013 leaking hazardous waste onto the roadway.
A note, handwritten by a DTSC inspector, states: "Leaking from the containers while on public roads is an ongoing problem and... needs to be addressed immediately."
In Sacramento, the DTSC's Chief of Enforcement Paul Kewin says his agency realized the trailers had been leaking for years.
"I can't explain how that got past us," Kewin said, adding that trailers have been redesigned to prevent leaks.
DTSC inspection reports also reveal lead contamination in the area surrounding the plant continued for more than a decade.
Another notice dated October 2004 orders Exide to "take emergency measures to limit public exposure from lead contaminated sediment in the flood control channel" that empties into the L.A. River.
The acceptable limit is 80 milligrams of lead. One sample contained more than 56,000 milligrams, according to the notice.
Four years later in 2008, the DTSC ordered corrective action after "significant contamination was identified" that represents "immediate and potential threats to human health."
In August of this year, the DTSC found 35 percent of the samples taken in the public rights of way and drainage systems reached levels requiring an emergency response.
In Sacramento, DTSC Chief of Permitting Rizgar Ghazi was asked how the public can believe the agency is doing its job to regulate the Exide facility.
"That's a very good question; it's a matter of trust. And I only can answer that question... by demonstrating what we're doing now and what we're going to be doing from now on," Ghazi said.
The DTSC has forced Exide to temporarily shut down for failure to control its emissions and to clean up contaminated homes, he added.
Consumer watchdog Liza Tucker says the agency's track record speaks for itself.
"We have a regulator who, through a combination of clear ineptitude, bias toward industry and reckless disregard for human health, (that) has created a monster," she said. "I want to cry. We are damaging the brains of our future generations."
At UCLA's School of Public Health, professor Hilary Godwin says she has "genuine concerns about the well-being of the children in that neighborhood," as well as those surrounding.
"As you're driving down the road, that stuff that's leaking can get aerosolized and incorporated into the air and you can breathe it in," she said.
Lesly Baltazar's family home, where she has resided for all of her 15 years, is directly in the path of what the Air Quality Management District calls high levels of lead emissions from the Exide technologies plant. They're waiting on results of tests on their home.
Asked if she worried about her health, Baltazar responded: "Yes, and especially my family's."
Exide declined to provide a comment for CBS2's story.
In a document filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission, Exide states the company is under criminal investigation by a federal grand jury investigating potential criminal violations in its transportation of hazardous waste and air emissions.
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