CAUTION: DTSC Detrimental to Community Health
The DTSC public meeting on February 23 capped off 9 years of Exide cleanup failure.
That night DR. MEREDITH WILLIAMS, Director of the Department of Toxic Substances Control (DTSC) TOLD US “I BELIEVE IN THE WORK WE ARE DOING.” DESPITE the years of hearing from residents who have had unresolved issues with the contractor not fully cleaning up our homes, damaging our property, facing racist and sexist comments, and having our health threatened by the contractor not following proper cleanup protocols. DESPITE the years of hearing from cleanup workers who are told not to follow proper cleanup protocols and face intimidation, sexism, physical violence and targeted firings. DESPITE worker injuries due to a cleanup culture that prioritizes DTSC staff in Sacramento receiving reports from the contractor that say cleanup is happening on time, within budget, and without issue instead of caring about what we are really facing on the ground. DESPITE our Get The Lead Out soil sampling project with USC and Occidental College finding that over 75% of cleaned up homes we sampled still have elevated levels of lead, and almost 97% of homes we sampled outside of the preliminary cleanup area have elevated levels of lead.
In fact, we got to witness the DOG AND PONY SHOW first hand when employees of the current cleanup contractor called in to say their boss is great. DTSC staff even thanked them for their service, meanwhile we were receiving messages from local hire cleanup workers about how these individuals are some of the WORST PERPETRATORS OF VERBAL AND PHYSICAL VIOLENCE. We are told this included one individual who BRAGGED ABOUT KILLING A CLEANUP WORKER AND STILL GETTING A PROMOTION! The cleanup worker died after being run over by large machinery at an Exide home cleanup site, and the contractor didn’t even report it to OSHA. This was shared at a public meeting months ago and there was no follow up. It’s no wonder cleanup workers continue to be afraid of speaking out publicly because of the toxic work environments DTSC has facilitated through mismanagement and largely absent oversight.
Despite the many more comments exposing the failure of this process, many comments repeated meeting after meeting for years, we hear that DTSC staff claimed this was a positive meeting. THIS ONLY LIFTS UP THEIR INCOMPETENCE, NOT RECOGNIZING THE TRAUMA THEY ARE INFLICTING WITH THEIR IRRESPONSIBLE ENGAGEMENT.
AND NOW THEY ARE ABOUT TO LAUNCH A NON-APOLOGY TOUR?! We’ve seen this tactic from public agencies before. “Don’t like what you are hearing from community leaders? Go look for other people who will tell you what you want to hear.” WE’VE SEEN DTSC utilize the tactic of spreading misinformation to unaware community members to bolster their position, the STATUS QUO. WE’VE SEEN DTSC rely on contractors to push their workers to speak out in favor of the contractors and DTSC to undermine what they call “disgruntled workers and community members” and support the STATUS QUO. WE’VE SEEN DTSC turn a blind eye to contractors gaming the system and counting workers from Lake Elsinore, Bakersfield and Orange County as “local hire” workers who then become the lap dogs of the contractors, acting as if they represent our communities, upholding the STATUS QUO. Unfortunately, last minute, they have convinced someone who leads public engagement for another government agency to facilitate the first stop on the tour. But WE’VE SEEN DTSC do this before, not properly preparing for engaging the public in a responsible way, because they are content with continuing the STATUS QUO. At one point, a professor who specializes in group facilitation and conflict mediation was hired to facilitate the Exide Technical Advisory Group public meetings. After the first public meeting, he refused to continue because of DTSC’s conduct. Once you engage with DTSC, you see how they like to act brand new and lie in service of the status quo. FOR OUR COMMUNITIES, THE STATUS QUO IS DTSC FAILING TO PROTECT US. FOR OUR COMMUNITIES, THE STATUS QUO IS POISON AND DEATH. This is why we are committed to FIGHTING FOR LIFE!!!
So, we wonder, what will DTSC say at their non-apology tour stops? Will DTSC staff continue to posture in defense of a failing agency, the way they did February 23? Will they speak on decisions they were not around for, the way they did February 23? WILL THEY REPEAT THEIR FEBRUARY 23 LIE that the current 1.7 mile radius boundary of the cleanup area was established because of soil sampling that went out to 4 miles, despite the fact we witnessed DTSC leadership try to limit their liability to 2 homes eventually opening up to 10,000 homes in a closed-door meeting after being exposed by LA County consultant Dr. Adam Love for misrepresenting soil sampling data? WILL THEY REPEAT THEIR FEBRUARY 23 LIE that they cleaned up contaminated schools in our communities during the summer despite the fact that they misrepresented data to LAUSD Principals, and we had to expose their lies to the LAUSD Board, which forced DTSC to cleanup during the first two weeks of school while kids were in session, putting kids at greater risk? WILL THEY REPEAT THEIR FEBRUARY 23 LIE that they have staff on site at every cleanup site despite the fact that at times they have only had two staff in the field overseeing as many as 30 cleanup crews across the Eastside and Southeast Los Angeles, with actual oversight and compliance enforcement being severely under resourced and cutting corners, violating cleanup protocols and abuses running wild? WILL THEY REPEAT THEIR FEBRUARY 23 LIE that they are surprised to hear of cleanup violations, despite issues with the current contractor being communicated to DTSC consistently starting years ago? WILL THEY REPEAT THEIR FEBRUARY 23 LIE that they remove trees from contaminated homes despite the fact that just 2 hours before the meeting we were talking with a resident that didn’t even get their sugar cane removed? They were told they have to remove it themselves. This is aside from us witnessing soil tracked into the street (who knows if it’s contaminated soil, but a violation either way), exposed soil around trees, and grass that will not make it to the summer.
These are all common violations, of our health and trust. On February 23 we heard public comment from a Maywood resident who said they CAUGHT THE CONTRACTOR WORKERS ILLEGALLY DUMPING CONTAMINATED SOIL IN THEIR YARD. DTSC staff feigned dismay, clutching their pearls, vowing to follow up, completely PRETENDING THAT THEY DIDN’T HEAR THIS EXACT PUBLIC COMMENT MONTHS AGO AND DID ABSOLUTELY NOTHING!
There are too many DTSC lies to recount here, and in reality, we’ve heard their February 23 lies for years. THE TRUTH IS DTSC DOESN’T WANT TO KNOW THEY ARE FAILING, with DTSC Assistant Deputy Director Mehdi Bettahar being one of the worst perpetrators of not wanting to acknowledge issues with the cleanup. To be clear, this isn’t a one house issue. These violations are a culture the contractors operate with and DTSC accepts through an “IGNORANCE IS BLISS” APPROACH.
So, after years of engaging closely with DTSC, how can we move forward in good faith when DTSC moves in this way? HOW CAN WE SHOW UP TO THEIR NON-APOLOGY TOUR KNOWING THEY WON’T BE TRANSPARENT OR ACCOUNTABLE, BUT INSTEAD WILL ONLY INFICT FURTHER TRAUMA AND STIR UP CONFLICT BETWEEN BOOT LICKING CONTRACTOR EMPLOYEES AND OUR COMMUNITY?
WE CAN’T. WE WON’T!!! What is clear to us is that the state needs to make a commitment to resampling all cleaned up homes and expand the sampling area to a 4.5 mile radius around Exide to get a better understanding of how far the Exide poison goes. WE CALL ON CAL EPA SECRETARY OF ENVIRONMENTAL PROTECTION YANA GARCIA AND GOVERNOR GAVIN NEWSOM TO HALT THE HARMFUL PROCEEDINGS OF DTSC AND MEET WITH US TO CREATE A PATH FORWARD THAT ENSURES COMPLETE CLEANUP OF ALL EXIDE IMPACTED HOMES AND THAT ENSURES THAT THE HEALTH AND SOCIAL IMPACTS OF EXIDE’S CONTAMINATION ON OUR COMMUNITIES IS PROPERLY ADDRESSED. Meanwhile, we’ll see what the next DTSC circus act is.