By EGP Staff Report
The US Bankruptcy Court for the District of Delaware has granted an extension for residents of southeast Los Angeles County who want to file claims against Vernon-based Exide Technologies.
The original filling date of October 31, 2013 has been moved to January 31, 2014.
Exide has been accused of exposing residents to cancer-causing levels of lead and arsenic emissions from its lead-acid battery recycling plant in Vernon.
Earlier this year, the South Coast Air Quality Management District (SCAQMD) required Exide to develop a risk reduction plan after the facility’s health risk assessment showed it posted an unacceptable health risk to more than 250,000 residents in the surrounding area, including Vernon, Huntington Park, Maywood, Commerce, Montebello, Boyle Heights and unincorporated East Los Angeles.
Saying it was overloaded with debt, Exide filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection on June 30, 2013. Part of the bankruptcy process included giving notice of a 45-day window to file a claim against the company by anyone who feels they have been harmed by Exide’s actions, before the bankruptcy filing is settled.
Residents said the short notice did not give them enough time to gather information needed to file their claims. “Given the fact that people have only been made aware of the potentially hazardous air emissions and contaminated soil near Exide in the last few weeks, the original Oct, 31st claim deadline was unrealistic,” said Sen. Ricardo Lara (D-Huntington Park/Long Beach), who along Sen. Kevin de Leon (D-Los Angeles) sent a letter to Exide requesting an extension. The filing period was extended to 90 days.
“Though a 90 day extension provides a bit more time for potentially impacted individuals to seek relief, the community has dealt with 25 years of pollution and time is not on our side. Given the short time frame, it’s my priority to continue to work with the community to ensure that justice is served,” said Lara.
Earlier this spring, toxic control officials identified potential health hazards from Exide to workers and residents in the area. A SCAQMD study revealed air emissions levels of lead and arsenic high enough to raise the local cancer risk.
Longtime Boyle Heights resident Rita Govea said during a recent neighborhood watch meeting that she believes her thyroid cancer and many of the medical problems suffered by other family members are directly related to decades of exposure to Eixde’s harmful emissions.
The basis for the residents’ claims is personal injury due to their exposure to toxic emissions, known as “toxic tort,” said Anastasia Mazzella, an attorney volunteering her services at the same meeting. The monetary amount can be an estimated amount for medical bills, loss of earnings, emotional distress, or if unknown at the moment write, “to be determined.”
Timing is still crucial, since residents still have little time to gather the information needed to support their claim.
De Leon said he was “deeply disappointed” that ‘the judge’s ruling continues to deny a realistic opportunity for residents to file claims.”
He said 90 more day is helpful, but barely enough time for the residents who have been exposed to the plant’s pollution for decades.
Earlier this month, DTSC and Exide Technologies reached an agreement that would require Exide to invest more than $7 million over the next two years to upgrade its Vernon battery recycling facility and to pay for blood tests for anyone who wants to test their lead levels.
Exide Technologies, located at 2700 S. Indiana St. in Vernon, is one of the two lead-acid battery recycling plants west of the Rockies. It has been operating since 1992 and currently recycles 23,000 to 41,000 batteries daily.