L.A. steps up air fil­ter track­ing

Los Angeles Times - - FRONT PAGE - By Tony Bar­boza

Mayor Eric Garcetti has or­dered Los An­ge­les build­ing in­spec­tors to be­gin track­ing whether re­quired air fil­tra­tion sys­tems are be­ing in­stalled in new homes near free­ways, of­fi­cials said Tues­day.

The Depart­ment of Build­ing and Safety will add a “check box” to its in­spec­tion forms to en­sure dwellings are equipped with the proper-strength fil­ters to pro­tect res­i­dents from traf­fic pol­lu­tion, may­oral spokesman Alex Comisar said.

The city also is en­hanc­ing its build­ing in­spec­tion soft­ware to alert staff of the fil-

tra­tion re­quire­ments and “track and cap­ture sta­tis­tics re­lated to their in­stal­la­tion,” build­ing depart­ment spokesman Jeff Napier said.

The new fea­tures, he said, should be up and run­ning in the next few days.

The sys­tem im­prove­ments come af­ter the Los An­ge­les Times re­ported last month that the city had no pro­ce­dures for doc­u­ment­ing whether newly con­structed homes near free­ways were com­ply­ing with re­quire­ments that they in­stall high­ef­fi­ciency air fil­ters.

The City Coun­cil last year adopted spe­cial fil­tra­tion rules for homes built near free­ways in an ef­fort to ad­dress the health ef­fects from a surge of res­i­den­tial de­vel­op­ment near traf­fic pol­lu­tion.

In re­cent years, Los An­ge­les and other Cal­i­for­nia cities have ap­proved the con­struc­tion of thou­sands of homes near free­ways, flout­ing more than a decade of warn­ings by air qual­ity of­fi­cials against build­ing hous­ing within 500 feet of heavy traf­fic. A mount­ing num­ber of sci­en­tific stud­ies link liv­ing near traf­fic pol­lu­tion to asthma, can­cer, heart at­tacks, preterm births and an ar­ray of other health prob­lems.

The 2016 or­di­nance signed by Garcetti re­quired that new homes within 1,000 feet of a free­way have air fil­ters meet­ing a stan­dard of 13 on a 16-point in­dus­try scale — the min­i­mum ef­fi­ciency re­port­ing value — that mea­sures how ef­fec­tively they block tiny pol­lu­tion par­ti­cles.

But air qual­ity of­fi­cials and health ex­perts have ex­pressed skep­ti­cism that fil­ters are an ad­e­quate so­lu­tion.

Although the de­vices cap­ture some of the harm­ful par­ti­cles in ve­hi­cle ex­haust, they do noth­ing to stop toxic gases. They must be reg­u­larly re­placed and are not ef­fec­tive un­less the ven­ti­la­tion sys­tem is run­ning — with all doors and win­dows closed.

In­spec­tors ver­ify air-fil­tra­tion stan­dards through re­views of build­ing plans and on-site vis­its, city of­fi­cials said. But un­like the records it keeps on smoke de­tec­tors and other health and safety fea­tures, Los An­ge­les was not doc­u­ment­ing the in­stal­la­tion of high-ef­fi­ciency fil­ters.

Los An­ge­les’ fil­tra­tion stan­dards ap­ply to new de­vel­op­ments only and do not help an es­ti­mated 600,000 peo­ple who live within 1,000 feet of Los An­ge­les free­ways, ac­cord­ing to a Times anal­y­sis of 2010 cen­sus data.

In 2015, Los An­ge­les is­sued build­ing per­mits for 4,300 homes within 1,000 feet of a free­way — the dis­tance where the city ad­vises de­vel­op­ers that res­i­dents’ health is at risk from air pol­lu­tion — and signed off on an ad­di­tional 3,000 units last year, records show.

Be­fore im­pos­ing the re­quire­ments last year, the city in cer­tain cases had made de­vel­op­ers equip build­ings close to free­ways with stronger air fil­ters as a con­di­tion of ap­prov­ing their projects. But neigh­bor­hood ac­tivists have com­plained that of­fi­cials fail to en­force such prom­ises.

Af­ter in­quiries from The Times, the Depart­ment of Build­ing and Safety in 2014 found that two large apart­ment com­plexes along the 110 Free­way had failed to in­stall the proper-strength fil­ters or the equip­ment nec­es­sary to ac­com­mo­date them. De­vel­oper Ge­of­frey H. Palmer later fixed the prob­lems, ac­cord­ing to the city.

Politi­cians and de­vel­op­ers have op­posed lim­its on how many homes can be built near free­ways, ar­gu­ing that would only worsen the re­gion’s se­vere hous­ing short­age.

En­vi­ron­men­tal ad­vo­cates and neigh­bor­hood groups, how­ever, have pushed for stricter de­vel­op­ment stan­dards and free­way buf­fer zones to bar the city from ap­prov­ing what some have dubbed “black lung lofts.”

This year, coun­cil mem­bers re­quested a new study of de­vel­op­ment re­stric­tions, de­sign stan­dards and other steps that could pro­tect peo­ple liv­ing near free­ways.

Garcetti’s of­fice said he has directed city de­part­ments to give their rec­om­men­da­tions, which the mayor has said will in­clude a look at how zon­ing could be changed near traf­fic.

Mel Mel­con Los An­ge­les Times

NEW HOMES near free­ways, such as the Da Vinci com­plex along the 101 Free­way, are re­quired to have high­ef­fi­ciency air fil­ters. The city up­dated its rules and soft­ware to en­sure such in­stall­ments are be­ing made.

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