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Sky Patrol Hunts Toxic Dumps : Police Go Up to Crack Down on Illegal Storage Sites

February 05, 1987|STEPHANIE O'NEILL | Times Staff Writer

Glendale police Officers Doug Staubs and James Fitzgerald have taken to the sky during the past four weeks in a black-and-white police helicopter, scanning brushland, industrial yards and residential neighborhoods for illegal toxic-material storage sites and dumps.

As part of the newly established Glendale Hazardous Materials Detection Team, the officers spend several hours each week above the city, peering through high-powered binoculars in an attempt to crack down on toxic violators, Staubs said Monday during a press conference formally announcing the program.

The aerial patrol, sponsored by the city's police and fire departments, augments hazardous-material teams operated by the state and Los Angeles County.

Helicopters jointly owned by Glendale and Burbank police departments will be used in the program. Staubs said the surveillance will cost the Police Department nothing since helicopter time left over from regular police patrols will be applied to the hazardous-materials patrols.

So far, the month-old sky patrols have turned up nothing more than nontoxic litter--empty 55-gallon drums and discarded paint cans--but, Staubs said, the program shows "a lot of potential."

"People often hide things behind fences and in places surrounded by walls and no roof," he said. "We'll have an advantage from the air."

If soil discoloration, abandoned chemical barrels or other signs of violation are spotted during an aerial patrol, Glendale's 6-year-old arson investigation team composed of Staubs and John Orr of the Glendale Fire Department will follow up with an inspection of the site. If a violation is confirmed, criminal charges may be filed or a fine imposed.

The formation of the airborne hazardous-materials team follows a "significant increase" in the number of complaints by the public regarding potential toxic violations, said Glendale Fire Chief Don Biggs.

Since 1984, the number of complaints filed with the Glendale Fire Department has risen from about one call a month to about two calls a week, although the number of actual violations has remained relatively low, Biggs said.

Glendale Fire Marshal Chris Gray, who attributes the increase in complaints to public awareness of toxic hazards, said, "It's a very topical environmental issue."

What prompted the city to implement the program "was an awareness on our part that we should assume a proactive role in the search" for violators, Gray said.

Nearly 600 Glendale businesses store and use dangerous chemicals, fire officials said.

Gray said the use of an array of chemicals in today's industry and the lack of adequate disposal facilities almost invites illegal dumping.

Gray said he hopes the helicopter flights will deter "some of these potential illegal dumpings."

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