Two California Senators and a Congressman have called on the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to designate parts of SouthEast Los Angeles a Superfund site.

Democratic U.S. Sens. Alex Padilla and Dianne Feinstein and Congressman Robert Garcia want the lead contamination from a former Exide Technologies plant to be cleaned up.

Exide Technologies was responsible for dumping lead and other hazardous contaminants into the air, soil, and water around their Vernon battery recycling plant, Garcia said in a statement. This contamination has impacted the predominantly working-class, Latino communities who the Congressman said suffer from cancer, asthma, learning disabilities and dangerous levels of lead in their blood.

“These communities have been denied the basic right to a safe and healthy environment,” said Congressman Garcia. “Enough is enough. Politically connected polluters can’t be free to walk away, while working class families pick up the pieces. It’s time for the federal government to step up (and) provide the expertise and accountability these residents deserve.”

Exide filed for bankruptcy again in 2020, the third time in two decades. This allowed them to walk away from all criminal liability and responsibility to clean up the facility and surrounding areas, Garcia said.

The cleanup is the largest environmental clean-up in state history. California has already allocated more than $750 million in taxpayer funding for cleanup and remediation efforts, soil testing, and community outreach. But the state and the federal government need to do more.

Recent Los Angeles Times reporting found remediation efforts have not properly removed lead pollution from homes and neighborhoods. Follow-up testing by researchers at USC and Occidental College found around 500 remediated properties failed to meet state health standards for lead concentration.

“There has been misstep after misstep by just about everyone involved following Exide’s crimes that forced communities in Southeast Los Angeles to live with toxic pollution that continues to poison their families,” said Sen. Padilla said in a statement. “I’m joining my colleagues in calling on the EPA to take action to finally provide justice and guarantee a healthy environment for our communities.”

The EPA reported that it cleaned up the plant’s structures as of May 2022. But cleanup needs to happen in the neighborhood and area homes testing with lead amounts higher than the state allows.

But the California Democrats want the federal government to step up.

“We believe the severity of the crisis, the failure of past remediation efforts to create healthy communities, and the risk to public health requires assistance from the EPA and the resources available under the Superfund program,” the three Democrats wrote in a letter to the EPA.

Exide and previous companies ran a lead battery recycling facility near the Los Angeles River in Vernon, California for around 90 years.It closed in 2015. 

The plant was cited by local, state and federal officials for violating hazardous waste laws by emitting too much lead and arsenic around the plant and on highways. Exide Technologies acquired the plant in 2000 and ran it until 2015. In 2020, the company filed for bankruptcy.

Bankruptcy should not allow the company to escape its responsibility to clean up the community. In the meantime the plant and surrounding neighborhood should be designated a Superfund site so that the state and the federal government ensure that it is safe for residents.