East LA recycling plant, toxins, and risks to human health

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Guadalupe Valdovinos (left) and her mother Lourdes in their backyard in East Los Angeles. Their home is among hundreds that have been cleaned by the state due to elevated lead levels in the soil. However, Valdovinos still feels like she’s in danger. Photo by Benjamin Gottlieb.

The company Exide owns a battery recycling plant in East Los Angeles that’s been closed for years. But the plant spewed lead, arsenic and other carcinogens known to cause serious health problems — such as increased risk of cancer, breathing diseases, and learning disabilities — into nearby communities for decades. Improper permits from the state allowed the plant to operate despite concerns from residents.

The pollution, government culpability, and current cleanup efforts are well documented in court papers and public statements by LA officials. But things have become more complicated in recent weeks after a federal judge approved Exide’s bankruptcy plan, raising questions about how the state will pay for the continued cleanup of some 6,000 homes and properties.