The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors voted Tuesday to explore whether it could gain the authority to shut down facilities emitting harmful chemicals rather than waiting for state regulators to act.
Hexavalent Chromium Linked To Cancer
Supervisor Janice Hahn said it was an issue she began thinking about almost immediately after she was elected to her post about a year ago, when residents from Paramount and Long Beach called her with complaints about hexavalent chromium from metal forging companies in the area.
Long-term exposure to the odorless substance, also known as chromium-6, is linked to cancer.
Department Of Health Has No Regulatory Authority Over Emissions
“When a restaurant has repeated health code violations, the Department of Public Health can step in to shut down the restaurant for posing a public health hazard,” Hahn said. “We should be able to do the same thing when a company’s toxic emissions are poisoning the air our residents breathe.”
The county Department of Public Health has ordered the companies to lower emissions, but has no regulatory authority to force compliance.
“The State Has All The Cards”
County officials have expressed frustration with regulatory agencies responsible for a variety of environmental hazards, ranging from the now- shuttered Exide battery recycling plant in Vernon to the massive natural gas leak in Aliso Canyon.
“Right now the state has all the cards,” Supervisor Kathryn Barger said, noting that the county had to sue for relief in the case of Aliso Canyon. “I think it’s important to maintain that local control.”
Environmentalists also argued that regulators are less aggressive than necessary.
SCAQMD Expands Local Authority
“I have attended probably 100 (South Coast Air Quality Management District) meetings,” said Jesse Marquez, the founder of Coalition for a Safe Environment. “What I have not seen them do is shut down repeat offenders. We have children and we have families who suffer the consequences of toxic air and hazardous materials.”
Reached for comment, SCAQMD spokesman Sam Atwood said the agency was working with the Department of Public Health on the chromium issue. Atwood noted that the SCAQMD had recently expanded its own authority, successfully sponsoring legislation that could allow it to quickly shut down a plant posing “imminent endangerment,” rather than waiting months for an administrative order. Assembly Bill 1132 will take effect Jan. 1.
Atwood said he couldn’t comment on the county’s vote until the agency had a chance to review the board’s plans.
A report on the county’s options is expected back in 90 days.