Battery Blood: How California Health Agencies Failed Exide Workers

VOICES--In 2015 an Exide Technologies plant in Vernon, Calif. that melted down car batteries for their lead was closed to avoid federal criminal prosecution for polluting nearby communities. 


But the damage had already been done. According to records obtained by Capital & Main,  California health officials were aware of more than 2,300 blood tests taken from the plant’s workers between 1987 and 2014 that revealed alarming blood-lead levels — high enough to cause miscarriages, tremors, mood disorders and heart disease. 

Despite all the evidence, the California Department of Public Health (CDPH) and the Division of Occupational Safety and Health (Cal/OSHA) failed to take action. Reporter Joe Rubin found that during that period, Exide was fined just once for lead-safety violations, a $280 fine for a "low" level violation that the company got reduced to $150.

The agency is kind of a political football, a battleground between those who see the prime directive as protecting workers and others who are fearful of hurting the bottom line of industry," Mariano Kramer, a former Los Angeles Cal/OSHA district manager, said of his former employer.

Industrial hygiene expert Rania Sabty-Daily was more direct: “It’s a totally dysfunctional system,” she said. “We debate the toughest standards in the country — meanwhile, Cal/OSHA enforces what are among the weakest standards in the nation.”

Capital & Main’s year-long investigation has already led to the introduction of state legislation designed to strengthen protections for workers in California.

(Joe Rubin won an investigative EMMY in 2016 for his reporting on a chemical trial (ABC10) involving the City of Sacramento's drinking water which exposed the public to byproducts linked to cancer and low birth weights. This piece was posted most recently at Capital & Main.) [[capitalandmain.com]]