Protesters demand shutdown of Exide plant

VERNON, Calif.

Protesters from all over Los Angeles gathered outside the Vernon plant on Friday.

"This is affecting our L.A. River. City of Los Angeles, please wake up. Residents wake up. We say Boyle Heights. we are the city of Los Angeles," said Teresa Marquez of Boyle Heights.

The State Department of Toxic Substances Control found that Exide has been releasing cancer-causing arsenic into the air for years. And the facility's failing pipes have been leaking water potentially contaminated with hazardous wastes into the soil below the facility.

As result, the state ordered Exide, which has filed for bankruptcy, to set aside $7.7 million in a special fund to pay for the cleanup, which would also include blood-lead level testing for nearby residents to be conducted by the L.A. County Health Department.

"We are very aware of the intensity of the community's concerns about the safety of this plant and are confident that this order ... will help demonstrate to the community that protection of their health and safety are paramount to our agencies," said Brian Johnson of the Department of Toxic Substances Control in a statement.

But protesters say that isn't enough.

"This is a matter of environmental genocide, where they have predominantly chosen to pollute our communities, mostly people of color," said Dolores Mejia of Boyle Heights.

Though there is no direct link between Exide's emissions and illness within the community, they want Exide to be shut down, and they want to be compensated.

"We also believe that there should be funding and compensation to our cities for any environmental mitigation to help our residents that have been impacted by this plant," said Maywood Councilman Thomas Martin.

Exide said in a statement that with the $7.7 million they must put aside for the cleanup, "that brings the investment in environmental upgrades at the plant to more than $18 million since 2008. The capital improvements are already well underway, and preliminary tests in April show emissions have dropped to below health risks thresholds."

Of the $7.7 million they put into the cleanup fund, whatever the state does not use to cleanup will be returned to Exide. Residents in the nearby communities will not see any of that money.

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