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District Seeks Health Assessment at Glendora Metal Firm

August 02, 1987|JESSE KATZ | Times Staff Writer

In the latest in a series of concerns raised about a Glendora metal-plating firm, the Bonita Unified School District has urged local air quality officials to assess the possible health impact of the plant on students at an adjacent elementary school.

The request, made in a July 24 letter to the South Coast Air Quality Management District, asks the agency to conduct "a full health risk assessment" to see if emissions from Plato Products Inc. could have an effect on the 500 students at Arma J. Shull Elementary School.

"We've always been concerned. We certainly don't want any problems with the children and the people within the area," said Sue Moran, president of the Board of Education for the district, which spans San Dimas and La Verne.

"But school boards have to go with proven facts, and that's what we're trying to do," she said. "We can't make innuendoes and accusations without being able to document it."

Officials for the air quality district said that such an assessment is part of the standard permitting procedure and that a series of reviews will be undertaken soon. The plant, which moved to its current site three years ago, is still being granted final operating permits, AQMD officials said.

"I think we need to answer the questions that have been raised, certainly," said Ed Camarena, AQMD's acting deputy executive officer for operations. "We'll be acting as promptly as we can to alleviate those concerns."

Officials for Plato, located on a one-acre site at 2120 Allen Ave., Glendora, just across the city line from San Dimas, could not be reached for comment.

Most recently, the company became the target of a county investigation to determine whether emissions from the plant could have caused a series of miscarriages among women living nearby.

Three women living on the 700 block of Groveton Avenue in San Dimas reported last month that they had had six miscarriages among them in the last two years, according to officials for the county Department of Health Services.

Although county health officials stressed that a direct connection between the miscarriages and the Plato plant would be difficult to prove, an investigation was launched to see if other women in the vicinity had suffered similar prenatal problems.

The inquiry, which is still in progress, will also seek evidence of any other health problems, ranging from headaches to nausea, that could be connected to Plato's metal-plating operation, said Paul Papanek, chief of the health department's toxics and epidemiology program.

The firm, which moved from El Monte to its current site in 1984, has been under fire from neighbors almost from the day it began operations in Glendora.

Led by a Concerned Citizens Committee of local parents, residents began complaining more than two years ago that chemical smells emanating from the plant were endangering the grade-school students nearby.

Although tests by the South Coast Air Quality Management District found no evidence that toxic fumes were being released, the air quality district did order Plato to upgrade its air pollution control equipment earlier this year, according to AQMD officials.

In addition, officials said, Plato agreed voluntarily to improve several warning mechanisms designed to help mitigate the chance of an accident.

Meanwhile, the citizens group persisted and, with the support of San Dimas city officials, persuaded the Los Angeles County District Attorney's Office to seek an investigation in November, 1985.

Conducted by the county Sanitation Districts, the investigation concluded that the company was discharging metal-contaminated waste water in concentrations two to three times greater than permitted under county law.

A Los Angeles Municipal Court judge fined Plato $27,500 last January after the firm pleaded no contest to 10 misdemeanor counts of dumping the toxic waste into county sewers.

Since then, residents have continued to charge that the Glendora plant is dangerous and should never have been placed so close to the San Dimas school and surrounding residential neighborhood.

Jeff Schenkel, chairman of the Concerned Citizens Committee, said he was pleased to see the school district acknowledging those concerns.

"We welcome that support," Schenkel said. "I'm certainly hopeful that this input from the school board will play a major role in any decision the (air quality district) will be making."

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