November 5, 2020: The Department of Toxic Substances Controls in California responded on October 27 to a damning report by the state auditor on the management of the residential clean-up around the shuttered Exide Vernon lead battery recycling site.
The State’s Poor Management of the Exide Clean-up Project Has Left Californians at Continued Risk of Lead Poisoningreport, number 2020-107, makes a number of criticisms about the cleaning operation. These include the fact that despite early identification of 50 contaminated properties, including schools and childcare centres, after five years 31 of them have still not been cleaned by the DTSC.
“In fact, it has cleaned only one of these properties since May 2018,” says the report. “In addition, DTSC has been unable to maintain the clean-up pace it presented in its 2017 plan for cleaning the most contaminated properties.
“As a result, it is significantly behind schedule and is unlikely to meet its goal to clean the 3,200 most contaminated properties by June 2021 — extending the time that residents in the clean-up site are exposed to dangerous levels of lead.”
It says the DTSC has not set a timeline for cleaning an estimated 4,600 properties that still have dangerous levels of contamination.
The cost, which has been left to the state to cover since Exide Technologies was sold off in July, has ballooned, the report says — and likely to be in the region of $650 million in total, far more than the $251 million that had already been provided to the DTSC by the state.
“DTSC’s estimates of per-property clean-up costs were inaccurate because it failed to account for predictable costs, such as inflation and payment of legally required prevailing wages,” the report says.
“Finally, DTSC has paid about $17 million more than it anticipated to clean 768 properties because it did not establish adequate protections in its agreement with its largest clean-up contractor.”
In response, the DTSC said it was conducting clean-ups at a faster rate and with more stringent standards than other residential lead clean-ups across the nation.
“To date, DTSC has cleaned up more than 2,000 properties with the highest levels of lead and is on pace to complete more than 90% of the clean-ups planned,” it said.
The DTSC also pledged to implement all of the state auditor’s recommendations, including cleaning up childcare centres, parks and schools, deploying resources to the most contaminated properties and setting a deadline of April 2021 for identifying the date by which all works are completed.