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Angry Anaheim Parents Complain of Chemical Cloud's Health Effects

February 25, 1988|DAVID REYES | Times Staff Writer

One by one, angry Anaheim parents and concerned residents told a panel of air quality and city officials Wednesday night that their children still suffer health-related problems from exposure to a potentially toxic cloud accidentally leaked by a chemical company more than 20 days ago.

Fighting to control sobs, Suzette Gregory, whose 3-year-old son, Jon, was hospitalized after the Feb. 4 release of sulfur trioxide gas at the Stepan Co., said her family now suffers nightmares over "the possibility of another accidental release."

'Son Has Been Sick'

"My 3-year-old son has been sick since this happened. My son says his throat burns, his stomach burns. I have been sick. My whole family has been sick. Each day that goes by has been very difficult because this company has been given permission to restart production. What's going to happen?" Gregory asked.

Another parent, Elaine Diaz, said one of her sons was in the gas cloud and came home covered with a fine dust. Her children continue to complain of severe head pain although medical experts told her family that symptoms would disappear within 24 hours.

"First they said within 5 hours, then it was 8. Then 24. Now it's been 20 days," Diaz said.

The meeting was held to review the incident and have the public offer safety suggestions, based on their experience from the accident, to help reduce the possibility of any future accidents, said Edward Camarena, deputy executive officer of the South Coast Air Quality Management District.

Although no injuries were initially reported, about 100 people later complained of vomiting, breathing problems and irritated eyes and throats.

But specific details of the incident, when 6,000 cubic feet of potentially toxic sulfur trioxide were released into the air near a residential area, were purposefully excluded from the panel's discussion.

Sulfur Dioxide Released

However, Dr. Thomas J. Prendergast, county health director, disclosed during a question-and-answer period that in addition to sulfur trioxide, sulfur dioxide was also released.

Anaheim Fire Chief Jeff Bowman, whose department has been severely criticized for failing to evacuate the neighborhood and take other precautions, defended the department's decisions in response to questions.

"The situation was thoroughly assessed and, based on their decision, they decided to first make sure the leak was stopped. By that time, the cloud was gone. There was nothing else that could be done," Bowman said.

Parents remained unconvinced of their safety, despite assurances by the safety officials.

Camarena said the AQMD's recent decision allowing Stepan to resume operations is "temporary" and is contingent on a list of many safety precautions, including the installation of safety devices, being discussed with company officials.

"If the company fails to cooperate, we will use every legal power we have to ensure the safety of the neighborhood," Camarena said.

When one parent, George Dewey, suggested the city or the company should have provided some means of announcing the gas leak, even a flyer, it was applauded.

"You could have hired a guy at $2.35 an hour to distribute these flyers in the neighborhood within 24 hours. That would have at least warned us that there had been a leak and given us the opportunity to see a doctor," Dewey said.

Other residents suggested the company install an alarm, such as a loud bell or siren, that could warn residents that a leak had occurred and to remain indoors.

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