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LA residents affected by environmental pollution march against Exide’s abandonment of recycling plant

Several dozen Los Angeles residents from toxic zones held a demonstration at Mariachi Plaza in Boyle Heights on Oct. 19, denouncing a court ruling that allows a toxic waste plant to abandon its facility.

Toxic zones, according to the U.S. National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health, are residential areas that are often predominantly low-income and are populated by people of color where residents live within close proximity to polluted industries. 

 Organized by East Yard Communities for Environmental Justice, the rally and march began at Mariachi Plaza around 5:30 p.m. in the working-class neighborhood of Boyle Heights, about a mile and a half from the Exide facility.

 Demonstrators converged onto the street and marched from Mariachi Plaza to the courthouse in downtown LA, chanting “community health, not corporate wealth!” Members from the community took turns sharing personal stories on the effects that lead pollution has caused on their families.

Jessica Prieto, a resident of East Los Angeles, brought her baby teeth from her sister, Stephanie, to be tested by Jill Johnston while Jessica was a research assistant at the University of Southern California Environmental Health Center in 2016.

 “What they found from my baby teeth were high levels of lead,” Stephanie Prieto said. “We still live in the same home, same neighborhood where there are high levels of contamination.”

 Lead poisoning has been found in neighborhoods across Los Angeles County, including  Huntington Park, Vernon, Commerce, South Gate, Cudahy and East LA. The contamination can spread through air waves, precipitation and sewage systems.

 “My family is suffering from cancer. We live within the Exide radius, [about] 1.7 miles,” Guadalupe Valdovinos, a finance and operations coordinator with the EYCEJ, said. “We’re scared that there is no funding, and, on top of that, we do not have health care.”

 The recycling plant’s bankruptcy plan was approved Friday, Oct. 16 in a Delaware bankruptcy court, and the ruling concluded that the facility does not pose a threat to the neighboring communities. 

According to the LA Times, the California Department of Toxic Substances Control has appealed the decision.

 The Department of Public Health in LA County conducted a survey on June 10, 2017, concluding that 65% of the 4,215 participants reported that their yards had been tested for lead. 

However, 55% reported that they had not received their results from the soil testing done in their yards.

 “They pollute our community and then they want us to pay for it,” George Magallanes, a long-time resident of Boyle Heights, said. “That is money that can go to state parks, affordable housing and education.”

Organizers and demonstrators said they believe that the facility’s shutdown is a “stepping stone” into another battle against pollution in their communities.

 Toward the end of the rally, some demonstrators threw bags of contaminated soil onto the steps of the courthouse.

“The facility’s shutdown is a victory, but you have to think of the entire context,” said Diana Sanchez, who used to work near the Exide recycling plant. “There are lots of people who have been impacted by these [unjust] actions.” 

This article was updated on Oct. 22 at 1:52 p.m. with the correct identification of who completed the lead testing, whose teeth were tested and where they were tested.

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