A lawsuit has been filed against multiple companies affiliated with a now-closed battery recycling plant years after California regulators promised to recover cleaning costs from those responsible for spreading lead contamination to thousands of homes in southeastern Los Angeles County.
The State Department of Toxic Substances Control alleges in the lawsuit filed Monday that three previous operating companies and seven companies that sent hazardous waste, or arranged for its treatment or disposal, are liable for cleaning up the pollution under federal law, reported The Los Angeles Times Saturday. .
The lawsuit aims to recover more than $ 136 million that the department has spent on cleaning since 2015, including future cleaning costs at the Vernon site and surrounding communities.
The lawsuit cites NL Industries, JX Nippon Mining & Metals and Gould Electronics as previous owners and Kinsbursky Bros., Trojan Battery Co., Ramcar Batteries, Clarios, Quemetco, International Metals Ekco and Blount as companies transporting hazardous waste to the plant. to send it there, or both.
The lawsuit noticeably rules out Exide Technologies, which was relieved from the hazardous location under a recently approved bankruptcy plan after pasting most of the clearance bill on taxpayers. The company operated the plant from 2000 until its closure in 2015 and was responsible for cleaning the site.
Some community groups and environmentalists in the largely Latino neighborhoods around the factory were angry with the way the cleanup was handled and asked what would change the lawsuit.
"Anything that can help get money back and use it for the cleanup is needed, but it feels like too little, too late because the real responsible parties are already off the hook," said Idalmis Vaquero, a member of Communities for a Better Environment living in a Boyle Heights apartment complex whose ground has not yet been cleaned.
Legal experts and environmental groups have argued that even if the lawsuit is successful, it could be years before all the money is recouped and used to clean polluted homes, schools and parks. The site is blamed for spreading lead dust more than a mile away.
Lead is a powerful neurotoxin that can cause learning disabilities and other permanent developmental and behavioral problems in children without a safe exposure level.
Kinsbursky Bros. Vice President Daniel Kinsbursky said that "KBI, like thousands of other companies, shipped recyclable materials to the Exide site in Vernon" and was never involved in the plant's operations.
Quemetco attorney Patrick Dennis said the company "takes its responsibility to the environment seriously and looks forward to defending itself once the complaint is filed."
Clarios spokeswoman Kari Pfisterer said the company will not comment on pending litigation.
Calls and messages asking for comments from the other companies were not answered.
A state audit released in October estimated that the bill for the cleanup, which already exceeds $ 250 million, could reach $ 650 million. It also found that the cleanup is behind schedule and over budget due to poor management by the Department of Toxic Substances Control.
Department director Meredith Williams said this week that her department had pushed Exide to assume responsibility for the cleanup through a separate, parallel process, while filing its case against other responsible parties. She said the timing of the lawsuit was unrelated to the bankruptcy and liquidation of the company.
Attorney General Xavier Becerra's California office did not respond to inquiries as to whether it was investigating Exide criminally or filed charges against the company. The L.A. County district attorney has conducted a criminal investigation for years but has not brought charges.
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