That as many as 10,000 homes near Vernon might have been dusted with lead from the Exide battery recycling plant doesn’t surprise. The facility had been smelting the heavy metal—especially harmful to young brains—since 1922. Toxins were spewed skyward, leaked from pipes, and deposited in the L.A. River. Exide bought the facility in 2000 and, in a deal to avoid criminal prosecution, shut it last year, agreeing to pay at least $50 million for cleanup. The state has pledged another $177 million. Such funding could keep the EPA from naming Exide a Superfund site, a designation that directs federal resources to the nation’s worst hazmat zones, but it’s not as if the county is lacking in them. Here’s a taste of the deadly local brew.
The San Fernando Valley
The noxious leftovers from generations of metal plating, dry cleaning, and aerospace work have rendered Valley ground water undrinkable. Solvents like trichloroethylene (TCE) and perchloroethylene (PCE) as well as the rocket fuel component perchlorate are common. Four Superfund sites that dot the region have been inching toward solutions since the 1980s. While the EPA tries to identify polluters and force them to pay up, the DWP wants to build two water treatment facilities, in North Hollywood and Tujunga.
The San Gabriel Valley
The story here is similar to the SFV’s: Decades of industrial activity have tainted more than 30 square miles of groundwater with TCE, PCE, perchlorate, and the like. A primary focus of the four Superfund sites, which account for an area that extends from West Covina to Alhambra to Monrovia, is to create safe drinking water. In some cases, it’s treated; in others, utility operators pump clean water into the aquifer to dilute the dangerous stuff. But bureaucratic efforts for some spots continue to limp along.
The Torrance-adjacent operation produced mosquito-killing DDT for 35 years, closing in 1982. The insecticide and other contaminants remain in the area’s soil and groundwater. Some will linger for centuries. Large quantities also traveled via storm drains and sewer lines into the sea, fouling a swath of ocean floor nine miles long and up to four miles wide off Palos Verdes. (Tip: The best way to grill fish from here is not to.)
Beside the Montrose plant, this sprawling facility manufactured synthetic rubber until 1972. Left behind was a cancerous cocktail of PCBs, arsenic, and other contaminants. An industrial park occupies much of the site now, and four acres have been capped. There’s also a system to scrub noxious vapors from the soil, and a $22 million water treatment facility is waiting to go online. The EPA recently pledged $55 million more for cleanup and is testing homes for harmful vapors.