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Cyanide Users May Be Forced to Get Permits

November 17, 1985|RENATE ROBEY | Times Staff Writer

Partly because of protests from a San Dimas parents' group, the South Coast Air Quality Management District is considering amending regulations to require companies in four Southern California counties to get permits if they use cyanide tanks.

But the Concerned Citizens Committee is unhappy because its target, a tool manufacturing company located next to an elementary school, will be allowed to continue operating the tanks that company officials say are essential to the business.

If the AQMD board approves the amendments, an estimated 300 companies using similar equipment in metal plating in Los Angeles, Orange, Riverside and parts of San Bernardino counties would be required to get permits, an AQMD official said.

Furor Erupted

The furor erupted in March, when the San Dimas parents' group began to question whether Plato Products Inc., located next door to Arma J. Shull Elementary School, might be producing toxic emissions in its chrome-plating operations. The group said it was particularly concerned about hexavalent chromium, which is emitted from cyanide tanks in the chrome-plating process.

Plato, formerly located in El Monte, moved in August, 1984, to a one-acre site at 2120 Allen Ave., in an area of Glendora bordering San Dimas and the school.

The company began operating immediately, using AQMD permits that had been issued for its El Monte operation. But the AQMD told Plato in September, 1984, that it would have to get new permits.

James Birakos, deputy executive officer for AQMD, said that the agency had been planning to grant Plato its permits without testing emissions or conducting public hearings. AQMD officials said that Plato is a well-run company and had been generally cooperative during permit negotiations.

"The staff was ready to give them the permit before the furor came up from residents in the area," Birakos said.

Jeff Schenkel, the father of a Shull student and organizer of the group, said that he thought "there is a serious risk factor involved."

In a letter to school officials, Schenkel complained that "I have personally walked along the playground fence during plant operations and have noticed strong chemical odors coming from the facility."

But tests conducted later by the AQMD and the Los Angeles County Department of Health Services concluded that no harmful emissions were being produced by the company, Birakos said.

The AQMD staff has recommended that Plato be granted a permit if, within the next three months, it will install safety devices that would provide warnings if equipment covered by current regulations shuts down or overheats.

Additionally, the staff is formulating new regulations that would require companies using cyanide tanks, now exempted from permit regulations, to get an equipment operating permit. Before the permit would be issued, special safety equipment might have to be installed.

"Normally, cyanide tanks don't emit anything," said Sanford Weiss, AQMD director of engineering. "They are completely innocuous. But if an accident occurred and someone dumped acid into the cyanide, hydrogen gas would be emitted." The safety equipment would detect and warn of acid in the cyanide, he said.

AQMD officials estimate that about 300 companies, including Plato, would have to get the permit if the new regulation is approved by the district's board. The AQMD said it has not yet compiled a list of the affected firms, mostly metal platers, but will contact them after the proposed regulation has been drafted.

"We are changing the rule because of Plato, and because of cyanide tanks," Birakos said.

"If we are going to look at Plato we are going to look at all cyanide tanks in the (Los Angeles) basin," Birakos said. "We will not be selective in our enforcement."

Birakos said the district would hold a public hearing and a workshop on the proposed regulation. Don Roth, chairman of the AQMD board, who also serves as mayor of Anaheim, said he expects the board to adopt the proposal.

Weiss estimated that it would cost Plato about $10,000 to install safety equipment that would be required under the proposed regulation. If the regulation is adopted by the board, companies that did not comply could be fined or ordered not to use cyanide tanks.

Plato had voluntarily agreed to install warning and control devices on other equipment, but balked when asked to install warning systems on its cyanide tanks.

William Eldred, vice president of Plato, said the company does not think that safety equipment on cyanide tanks was necessary and that no plans will be made to install such equipment unless AQMD adopts the new regulations.

Schenkel said he was pleased that the district had added a system of "bells and whistles."

"One of the most important things we've acquired in this entire process is the additional regulations for Plato to install additional equipment," he said.

"I only hope that the warning devices are never used and if they are used that it is not too late," Schenkel said.

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