Working Class Communities Foot the Bill for Toxic Cleanup Site

Image Credit: Dean Musgrove / Los Angeles Daily News/SCNG

A recent federal court decision is allowing Exide Technologies to abandon its battery recycling plant in a working class community of Vernon, California. And who’s been deemed responsible for footing the bill for cleanup? Taxpayers in the surrounding neighborhoods of course!

Residents and environmental experts have long fought against Exide, a company that’s been raking in profits while polluting the community for decades. And now that the company is going bankrupt, insult has only been added to injury – the same communities that were forced to deal this pollution for years, now have to pay to clean it up. 

But this is nothing new. In 2015, the U.S. Department of Justice decided not to prosecute Exide for its violations of hazardous waste law, even though it had been knowingly polluting the area since it opened in 1922. In exchange, Exide agreed to close down its Vernon facility and clean up related contamination, including lead contaminated soil, roads polluted with battery acid, and toxic chemical emissions. They committed to pay $50 million for this cleanup. Meanwhile, the state has already contributed more than $270 million towards addressing the lead contamination of thousands of homes surrounding the facility. 

With the latest ruling, the federal courts have completely let Exide off the hook. In what has turned into the largest remediation project of its kind in California, the company responsible is allowed to simply walk away and let others clean up its mess. 

This decision was not without community outrage. This outrage just did nothing to affect the decision of the court, which has showed over and over again it has no interest in protecting the lives of poor and working people. We can’t rely on the courts to protect us – they won’t. They’ll sooner let polluters poison us, and then stick us with the cleanup bill when these polluters are no longer profitable. This decision reminds us that we can only rely on our own forces. No one else is going to keep us safe but ourselves.