- Associated Press - Wednesday, February 17, 2016

LOS ANGELES (AP) - Gov. Jerry Brown on Wednesday proposed spending $176.6 million to test and clean up thousands of homes that may be contaminated by lead near the defunct Exide Technologies battery recycling plant.

The money, if approved by the Legislature, would vastly expand an ongoing state effort to identify homes, schools, daycare centers and parks that may have elevated levels of the toxic metal within a 1.7-mile radius of the Vernon plant. There are 26 schools and several parks in the region.

“With this funding plan, we’re opening a new chapter that will help protect the community and hold Exide responsible,” Brown said in a statement issued Wednesday.

The Department of Toxic Substances Control has spent about $7 million, removing some 10,000 tons of lead-contaminated soil from communities a few miles southeast of downtown Los Angeles in a heavily industrial area. The additional funding would permit testing of all 10,000 properties in the area and provide enough money to remove contaminated soil from about 2,500 of them.

“This is clearly the largest cleanup the department has ever undertaken,” department Director Barbara Lee said.

Some estimates have put the final cost at up to $400 million, depending on how many properties are found to have elevated lead levels.

Brown is asking the state Legislature to approve loaning the department money from the state’s general fund, with the idea of eventually getting it back from Exide and others that are found to be responsible for the pollution.

Messages to Exide media representatives seeking comment were not immediately returned.

Local, state and federal officials had cited Exide for decades for emitting too much lead and arsenic and for violating hazardous waste laws both in and around the 15-acre plant and on the highways where its trucks traveled.

Exide, which filed for bankruptcy in 2013, closed the plant last year. The company agreed to pay about $40 million to clean up the site and another $9 million to deal with contaminated soil at several hundred nearby homes.

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