Law tar­gets health threats

Los Angeles Times - - CALIFORNIA - By Tony Bar­boza

Lo­cal air qual­ity of­fi­cials are gain­ing new pow­ers to quickly stop pol­luters when they en­dan­ger peo­ple’s health un­der leg­is­la­tion signed by Gov. Jerry Brown on Monday.

The law, which goes into ef­fect Jan. 1, fol­lows years of frus­tra­tion in com­mu­ni­ties such as Para­mount, Boyle Heights and May­wood — where reg­u­la­tors have strug­gled to stop highly pol­lut­ing op­er­a­tions af­ter dis­cov­er­ing hot spots of Chromium-6, lead and other dan­ger­ous pol­lu­tants.

Cur­rently, air reg­u­la­tors seek­ing or­ders to cur­tail op­er­a­tions that vi­o­late rules and threaten pub­lic health must go through an ad­min­is­tra­tive hear­ing board. The process can take months, while the pol­lu­tion con­tin­ues un­abated.

As a re­sult, res­i­dents “were be­ing told: ‘You are in grave danger, but we can’t do any­thing about it,’ ” said Assem­bly­woman Cristina Gar­cia (D-Bell Gar­dens), who wrote the leg­is­la­tion.

“What we’re say­ing to­day is that when we have im­mi­nent health threats, that trumps the right to do busi­ness,” Gar­cia said.

The new law will give pol­lu­tion con­trol of­fi­cers the power to is­sue im­me­di­ate or­ders to stop pol­lut­ing op­er­a­tions when vi­o­la­tions pose an “im­mi­nent and sub­stan­tial” danger. The or­ders are temporary, pend­ing a hear­ing be­fore an ad­min­is­tra­tive board.

South Coast Air Qual­ity Man­age­ment Dis­trict Exe-

cu­tive Of­fi­cer Wayne Nas­tri wel­comed the leg­is­la­tion as “an im­por­tant new tool to pro­tect pub­lic health.”

The dis­trict, which spon­sored the leg­is­la­tion, has pointed to five re­cent cases where in­ad­e­quate en­force­ment author­ity pre­vented it from tak­ing swift ac­tion to stop a fa­cil­ity’s harm­ful emis­sions.

At Anaplex Corp., a metal-fin­ish­ing fa­cil­ity in Para­mount, it took the South Coast air dis­trict months to se­cure an ad­min­is­tra­tive or­der to cur­tail op­er­a­tions af­ter the car­cino­gen Chromium-6 was de­tected last fall at lev­els up to 350 times nor­mal. The dis­trict has said it would have used the new author­ity to stop dan­ger­ous lev­els of lead from the now­shut­tered bat­tery re­cy­cler Ex­ide Tech­nolo­gies in Ver­non and Chromium-6 from Hix­son Metal Fin­ish­ing in New­port Beach, among other cases.

Some in­dus­try groups op­posed the leg­is­la­tion, while cities backed it as giv­ing air districts the tools they need to pro­tect res­i­dents.

Nas­tri said the law “pro­vides ad­di­tional pro­tec­tion for the breath­ing pub­lic and also en­sures due process for any af­fected busi­nesses.”

The new pow­ers come as state law­mak­ers are im­pos­ing re­quire­ments that lo­cal air districts do more to mon­i­tor and re­duce toxic pol­lu­tants. Brown last month signed leg­is­la­tion aimed at im­prov­ing neigh­bor­hoodlevel air qual­ity as part of a deal to ex­tend the state’s cap-and-trade pro­gram to fight cli­mate change.

Stronger en­force­ment author­ity also is key to a $47mil­lion air tox­ics plan that the South Coast dis­trict an­nounced ear­lier this year to find and re­duce emis­sions from the worst-pol­lut­ing fa­cil­i­ties over the next seven years. The ini­tia­tive tar­gets an es­ti­mated 1,100 met­al­pro­cess­ing fa­cil­i­ties that may be re­leas­ing toxic pol­lu­tants such as Chromium-6, lead, arsenic, cad­mium and nickel.

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