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LA residents demand state help to clean up contaminated soil

L.A. soil contamination
Residents near old battery plant in L.A. demand state help 02:37

LOS ANGELES -- People who live near the old Exide battery plant in Los Angeles are demanding state help. Nearly all of the 10,000 homes within a 1.5-mile radius of the old plant have been found to have soil contaminated with lead and other toxins in their yards.

But there may not be enough money to clean it up. 

For more than a year, crews have been cleaning up some of the most hazardous land in Los Angeles where toxic levels of lead have seeped into the soil.

Maria Ortega CBS News

Generations of children have played in Maria Ortega's front yard, unaware they were at risk.

"I was very alarmed and concerned," Ortega said. "It's nothing to play around with."

About five miles south, Carlos Jimenez's yard also tested positive for lead. But according to the state, it may never be decontaminated because of a budget shortfall.

"I'm a little frustrated," Jimenez said. "I just hope they come back to the rest of us and give us a chance to have our houses cleaned up as well."

The Exide Technologies plant CBS News

Before closing, the Exide Technologies plant recycled car batteries for 70 years, spewing toxic lead, benzene and arsenic into the air, slowly poisoning these properties. Now, a recently released report confirms only 25 percent of homes will be cleaned.

"It's not to say that we're not going to address the remaining properties," said Mohsen Nazemi, deputy director of the Department of Toxic Substances Control. He's in charge of working with the $176 million cleanup budget.

Mohsen Nazemi CBS News

"There's not enough money to clean up 10,000 homes," he said.

Ninety-eight percent of tested yards came back with lead levels above the state's strict health standards of 80 parts per million. These levels of lead are known to cause brain damage and stunt growth in children.

But instead of using state standards, the Department of Toxic Substances Control is using a federal standard of 400 parts per million to prioritize who gets help.

Los Angeles County Supervisor Hilda Solis said the state is failing the predominately Hispanic community impacted by the toxins.

"This goes way beyond Flint, Michigan, now," Solis said. "You are talking about the cleanup that has been so lax, the oversight that has been so lax. There's been a disregard for the community and that to me is unacceptable."

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