How An Exide Could Happen

The Los Angeles Timeseditorial this week on the urgency of cleaning up Exide’s swath of contamination asks a legitimate question: Why hasn’t California launched an independent investigation into what went so wrong at the Department of Toxic Substances Control (DTSC) and other agencies that hazardous waste levels of lead are threatening hundreds of East Los Angeles residents, especially children? 
To answer that question, the Legislature should go back to DTSC Director Barbara Lee, who was confirmed by the Senate in July against the advice of Consumer Watchdog.  At the time, Consumer Watchdog said that Ms. Lee was not the reformer that DTSC needed. In fact, she minimized and ignored extensive contamination around Exide that was proven by DTSC's own April test results, as CBS uncovered. She essentially said that there was no public health emergency — unless people, children, were falling down in the streets from lead poisoning. That defeats the purpose of protecting communities from toxic harm.
What the DTSC needs is a reformer who understands hazardous waste, its toxicity, and its health implications, and is committed to protecting communities by diligently enforcing perfectly good state environmental laws. An independent investigation into what went wrong at DTSC and also at the South Coast Air Quality Management District, the LA Regional Water Quality Control Board, and the LA County Department of Public Health is in order. DTSC is the lead agency on hazardous waste, but the others had a major role to play.
The governor’s approval of an independent DTSC review panel consisting of a community representative, a person with scientific expertise, and a local government management expert is a place to begin. Senate Rules, the Assembly, and the Governor will each appoint one person to it. This panel will oversee the creation of an internal DTSC auditing and ombudsman function, and is supposed to report back every 90 days on the department's performance. State lawmakers and the Governor should task that panel with organizing an independent study.
Look particularly at:
•The lack of tough enforcement action against Exide and the reasons why.
•The lack of enforcement of laws requiring Exide to assure the state it had ample money to cover the cost of any ordered corrective action, and the cost of closure and cleanup.
•Why DTSC cancelled a contract with a leading scientist capable of tracing lead back to Exide in 2014 to prove the company was responsible.
•Why DTSC and air regulators could not cooperate on both toxic air emissions levels and the accumulation of fallout from those emissions onto the ground, as well as why water regulators who knew of lead going into the groundwater and LA River did nothing.
•How much of the lead problem at Exide could be lead-based paint in homes and what the LA County Department of Public Health, funded over the years to take care of the problem, did with the money.  
Only then can the state begin to understand how much is wrong with our system of environmental regulation, from cultural issues involving low-income, largely minority communities, to the many structural issues that get in the way of a system of regulation where the right hand and the left hand work together.

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