LA exposed toxic fumes due to chemical leaks in soil

More than 10,000 families in Los Angeles are being exposed to toxic fumes such as lead, benzene and arsenic due to chemical leaks from an old plant. 

Exide Technologies, an old recycling battery plant in Vernon near LA, closed down in 2015 after ongoing reports of dangerous chemical exposure to residents by mere contact.

But after the closure it left behind large traces of chemicals in the soil and air of homes as far as five miles away from the plant.

These chemicals are particularly damaging to children who play around in the grass outside their houses and touch contaminated soil. 

It can cause learning disabilities, brain damage and even death for those who come in contact with the toxins.

Residents of Vernon are calling this disaster worse than Flint, Michigan, after the city released a cleanup plan that is only expected to help 25 percent of the contaminated homes in the next two years.

Exide Technologies was a battery recycling plant in Vernon, California, five miles from downtown LA. Officials have discovered the plant being the cause of toxic chemicals such as lead being found in the soil of residential homes and schools nearby

The cleanup started in 2014 for houses in LA with the highest toxic level of lead in their soil, but residents say health officials have been working slower than necessary. 

The state tested residences a mile-and-a-half from the old battery plant, and 98 percent of them came back with high levels of lead.

These homes are not the only ones at risk. 

Some residents that live even five miles away from the plant have found high levels of lead in their soil, but the state doesn’t have any current plan to help with decontamination.

The toxic lead levels in the water in Flint, Michigan, and how it impacted the residents

Flint, Michigan, experienced a contamination problem with its water supply after the city started using the Flint River

The city was originally getting its water from Detroit, but made the switch to the river in April 2014.

Children living in Flint then started to experience an extreme increase in lead levels in the blood. 

A study showed lead levels in children doubled after the city made the switch. 

This toxic chemical is damaging to a child’s brain development and growth. 

The mayor of Flint declared the city in a state of emergency in December 2015 as officials scrambled to figure out a solution to the increase in lead. 

Residents in the city protested until the government switched the water supply back to coming from Detroit. 

But the increased lead exposure could have irreversible effects on the people most affected. 

Officials don’t know if it will ever be safe for residents to ingest the water from Flint.   

Carlos Jimenez spoke to CBS News about her contaminated yard that officials say may never be fixed. 

‘I’m a little frustrated,’ Jimenez said. ‘I just hope they come back to the rest of us and give us a chance to have our houses cleaned up as well.’ 

The Department of Toxic Substances Control for California said in July it would clean up 2,500 contaminated homes that are less than two miles from the plant in the next two years.

This plan will cost the state $176 million and will also focus on schools and day care centers that are exposed.

Officials warn people in this area to avoid allowing their children to play in areas of contaminated soil to prevent risk of ingesting the harmful toxins.

How lead poisoning can be damaging to the health

High levels of lead exposure can attack the brain and central nervous system of the person who ingests it.

This is especially damaging to children whose central nervous systems are still developing.

Lead poisoning can cause developmental problems, a decrease in IQ and learning disabilities.

It will even stunt growth for children.

The Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME) estimated that lead exposure accounted for 853,000 deaths in 2013 around the world due to long-term effects on health.

The chemical will enter through the body if people ingest food or drinks that have come in contact with lead.

It will enter through the body and distribute to areas such as the brain, bones, kidneys and liver. 

The body can then store the lead in the bones and teeth if it accumulates over a long period of time. 

Eventually, the lead will be absorbed into the blood and infect a fetus if the person is pregnant.

At high levels of exposure, lead can attack the nervous system and cause a coma or even death for the victim. 

Exposure to benzene and how it affects the body

Benzene is another chemical that has contaminated the soil and air around homes in LA because of the closed battery plant.

This chemical normally causes harm through inhalation of the air in areas affected. It can also go into the soil and resurface into the air.

The city has been working on cleanup since 2014, but residents say the disaster is turning into one as serious as Flint, Michigan. Workers were removing topsoil of homes three miles away from the plant in 2015 around the time the plant officially closed down

The city has been working on cleanup since 2014, but residents say the disaster is turning into one as serious as Flint, Michigan. Workers were removing topsoil of homes three miles away from the plant in 2015 around the time the plant officially closed down

Some minor symptoms benzene exposure will cause include headaches, dizziness, tremors, and skin and eye irritations.

People are at risk for cancers such as leukemia, lymphoma and myeloma if exposed to this chemical for long periods of time. 

The World Health Organization recommends keeping areas producing benzene away from residential homes to help lessen the risk of people getting exposed.

Arsenic and how it can impact someone’s health

Arsenic in its natural form is an element distributed through the Earth’s crust. The element is commonly mixed with oxygen, chlorine and sulfur to make other forms.  

It’s inorganic form is dangerous for the human body and has been previously used for products such as pesticides before the United States banned them.

If an inorganic form of arsenic is swallowed, it can be damaging to the body’s digestive system. 

People can swallow this form in food, drinks or soil that has been contaminated. 

Some short-term symptoms are stomachaches, vomiting, and diarrhea.

If the arsenic is touched by the skin, it can cause irritations and rashes that form dark patches along the surface.

Inorganic arsenic is also characterized as a human carcinogen, meaning it can cause cancer in the body if ingested long-term.