The Spark

“The emancipation of the working class will only be achieved by the working class itself.” — Karl Marx

Vernon, California:
The Fight Not to Be Poisoned

Feb 17, 2014

In the spring of 2013, California’s Air Quality Management District reported that a very big battery recycling plant in Vernon, seven miles south of downtown Los Angeles, was emitting high levels of arsenic into the air, endangering the health of the 110,000 people in the working class communities that surround the plant.

This kind of report was nothing new for Exide Technologies, the giant multinational whose Vernon plant takes apart and smelts the contents of up to 40,000 car batteries every day.

Between 1999-2000, the California Department of Toxic Substances Control (DTSC) found heavy concentrations of lead in the sediment at the bottom of the storm water retention ponds near the plant. According to news reports at the time, the DTSC “was clearly aware” that the company had purposely put holes in the lines even though lead could leak into the soil.

In 2004 and again in 2008, the DTSC took emergency measures to force Exide to clean up a lead-contaminated drainage channel, and public areas like sidewalks, streets, and neighboring roofs.

In 2004, Exide paid $3,000 to settle two air quality violations with state regulators.

In 2006, the DTSC fined Exide $39,000 for failing to minimize the possibility of hazardous releases.

In 2007, a study prepared at the request of the California Regional Water Quality Control Board estimated “that in the last three years, Exide has contributed through deposition approximately 424 lbs. of lead in both 2004 and 2005 and 712 lbs of lead in 2006 to the watershed.

And on and on... year after year. Meanwhile, the Exide plant continued to spew poisons that caused cancer, autoimmune diseases, asthma and learning disabilities.

But starting in the spring of 2013, many people from the surrounding area began to mobilize. They picketed the plant. They picketed government offices in Los Angeles and Sacramento. They jammed public hearings. A community spokeswoman, Dolores Mejia, denounced the company and government regulators as “The Cartel of Contamination.”

Faced with this increasing mobilization, the regulators shut down the Exide plant for a couple of months – only to have a judge order the plant reopened last summer.

Meanwhile, the plant continues to pollute, with at least three reports of high lead readings by government regulators since the fall. As one activist told a town hall meeting last October, “Exide is gassing our children, our people.”