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New Weapon in Fight Against Pollution: 'Toxic Threat Strike Team'

Los Angeles County votes to create 'strike team' to tackle public health threats it says the state's been too slow to act on

Andrea Germanos, staff writer

The Vernon, California water tower. (Photo: Jim Ellwanger/cc/flickr)

In an effort to counter what it sees lack of action by the state, the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors voted unanimously Tuesday to create a "Toxic Threat Strike Team" to target toxin-emitting facilities wreaking havoc on public health.

Making up the core of the "strike team" will be the Department of Public Health, County Counsel, the District Attorney, the Department of Public Works and the Fire Department.

The proposal was initiated by Supervisor Gloria Molina, who explains in the motion: "We cannot remain passive and silent in the wake of state inaction or ineffectiveness. The health of our communities cannot wait."

One facility already targeted is the Exide battery recycling plant in Vernon.

The Long Beach Press Telegram reports that

[t]he facility, which recycles 23,000 to 41,000 batteries daily, has been cited for lead and arsenic pollution and was temporarily closed in April.

And on Monday

state officials from the Department of Toxic Substances Control announced that elevated levels of lead was found in soil taken from 39 residential lots near the plant and called for expanded testing.

Authorities said there did not appear to be an immediate severe risk to adults in the area, but recommended that parents keep children from playing in the dirt and thoroughly wash children’s hands when they come inside.

"How are you going to tell children that you can’t play outside, that you can’t have any fruit that touches the ground," Monsignor John Moretta of Resurrection Catholic Church in Boyle Heights told the Board on Tuesday. "You have to wash your hands, and pregnant women shouldn’t go out in the dirt? I mean, this is just ridiculous."

In addition to working towards Exide's closure, the "strike team" is initially tasked with identifying LA County's "10 most highly burdened communities" and the potential risk-posing facilities located within those communities.

Patty Bilgin of the Los Angeles County City Attorney’s Environmental Justice unit said the communities affected by the toxic pollution amounts to "environmental racism," telling the Board, "The quality of air you breathe and water you drink should not be dictated by the color of your skin."

Ramya Sivasubramania, who spoke on behalf of Natural Resources Defense Council at the Board hearing in support of motion, praised the "strike team" as a proactive "tool to protect public health and the environment in overburdened communities."


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