Gov. Jerry Brown directs nearly $180 million for Exide plant cleanup in Vernon staff KABC logo
Thursday, April 21, 2016
Exide's recycling center in Vernon is shown in this undated file photo.
Exide's recycling center in Vernon is shown in this undated file photo.

VERNON, Calif. (KABC) -- Gov. Jerry Brown signed legislation Wednesday directing nearly $180 million to test and clean up homes and businesses that may have been contaminated by lead near the former Exide Technologies plant in Vernon.

The funding of $176.6 million will clean some of the residences, schools, daycare centers and parks within 1.7 miles of the former battery recycling plant.

"Children should be able to play in yards free from toxics," Brown said in a statement. "With this funding plan, we're doubling down on efforts to protect the community and hold Exide responsible."

More than $7 million has already been spent for testing and cleanup, including removal of 10,000 tons of lead-contaminated soil.

The money has been borrowed from the Toxic Substances Control Account and the state's general fund.

Democratic Senate leader Kevin de Leon of Los Angeles says the state will eventually seek to recover the cleanup costs from Exide and any other parties found to be responsible.

"It definitely feels like a victory," said Jennifer Cervantes of Communities for a Better Environment.

Cervantes, 19, got a taste of what it feels like to take on a big corporation and lobby government leaders, and win.

"We've been fighting for this for over 10 years and Exide has been contaminating for over 30 years," she said.

Exide has already agreed to pay $50 million for the cleanup of the 15-acre site and surrounding neighborhoods.

"Lead doesn't just disappear. It deposits into the soil, it deposits into our blood, it stays in our teeth and our bones, and it impacts our ability to achieve academic success and it impacts levels of violence and crime," said Mark Lopez, executive director of East Yard Communities for Environmental Justice.

Lopez says the money is a great start but it's just not enough.

"We consider this a down payment. Estimates are upwards of $500 million of what's actually needed for this cleanup," he said. "We want to make sure that children are prioritized in this and we want to make sure this is done as efficiently as possible. I don't think the state knows how big the issue is yet so until that is known, we really don't know how much it's going to cost."

MORE: Higher lead levels found in children living near Exide plant in Vernon

Meanwhile, a study released by the California Department of Public Health earlier this month found that children living near the now-closed plant had higher lead levels in their blood than those living farther away.

The public health department analyzed blood lead levels from nearly 12,000 children under the age of 6 who were tested in 2012 - the last full year that the Vernon plant was operating.

Around 3.6 percent of the children living within a mile of the plant had elevated lead levels and the percentage fell to around 2.4 percent for children living farther away, the study found.

The Associated Press contributed to this report