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Toxic Metal Concentrations Found in Air at Bell Gardens' Suva Schools

April 24, 1988|RICHARD HOLGUIN | Times Staff Writer

BELL GARDENS — Tests have revealed relatively high concentrations of a toxic metal in the air around Suva elementary and intermediate schools, and air quality officials are recommending that two chrome-plating factories take swift action to alleviate the problem.

Air tests conducted in January, February and March in and around the schools detected unacceptably high levels of hexavalent chromium, a byproduct of chrome plating that causes cancer with long-term exposure, a spokesman for the South Coast Air Quality Management District said last week.

"The short-term concentrations are high but they're not in the emergency range," AQMD spokesman Art Davidson said. "There's no emergency need for evacuation, but it's above the level we'd like to see."

Despite the assurances, the emissions are a biting concern for school personnel, who have had eight miscarriages involving at least two deformed fetuses since April, 1987, a spokeswoman said. Another teacher ended her pregnancy after she found out her fetus was deformed.

For the Record
Los Angeles Times Sunday May 1, 1988 Home Edition Long Beach Part 9 Page 4 Column 1 Zones Desk 5 inches; 176 words Type of Material: Correction
The Times reported last Sunday in its Southeast/Long Beach editions that a maximum of 13 nanograms of hexavalent chromium, a carcinogen, had been detected during a six-hour period in the air at Suva elementary and intermediate schools in Bell Gardens.
Air tests conducted earlier this year by the South Coast Air Quality Management District actually detected a maximum of 430 nanograms of the toxic metal in the air on school grounds during a six-hour period. An AQMD report on the findings contained a typographical error, AQMD spokesman Bill Kelly said last week. A nanogram is one-billionth of a gram.
An AQMD spokesman also erroneously told The Times that if the average concentration of hexavalent chromium at the schools were breathed 24 hours a day, every day for 70 years, it would produce an estimated 37 to 450 additional cancer cases per 1 million people. Instead, those figures were weighted to reflect part-time, or anticipated, daily exposure by students and workers at the schools over 70 years.
Hexavalent chromium, a byproduct of chrome plating, is emitted by two chrome-plating factories adjacent to the schools. Hexavalent chromium is known to cause cancer in humans. It also has caused miscarriages and birth defects in laboratory animals.

Hexavalent chromium has been known to cause cancer in workers in chrome factories, said Dr. Paul Papanek, chief of the county Department of Health Services' toxics epidemiology program. It also has caused miscarriages and birth defects in animals exposed to high doses, but it never has been shown to do the same in humans, he said.

Plan Neighborhood Survey

School officials and community volunteers were to perform a neighborhood survey this weekend to pinpoint any health problems that could be related to the emissions.

The AQMD used computer projections based on its air tests to determine the risk the emissions posed to students and people living near Chrome Crankshaft Co. and J & S Chrome Plating Co. The plants abut the schools, with residential areas to the north, west and south.

If the average concentration at the schools was breathed for 24 hours a day, every day for 70 years, it is projected it would produce 37 to 450 additional cancer cases per million people, an AQMD report said. The light industrial area just east of the schools is the most heavily impacted area. There, the excess cancer risk ranges from 630 to 7,700 cases per million, the report said.

Chrome Crankshaft and J & S Chrome have been permitted to discharge hexavalent chromium into the air since the 1960s.

The AQMD is proposing that both plants install 50-foot-tall exhaust stacks to discharge the hexavalent chromium higher in the atmosphere, where it would mix with clean air and be diluted before reaching breathing levels.

"The current stack configuration is near the ground and pointed downward near the breathing zone," Davidson said.

The AQMD also is recommending that Chrome Crankshaft, which is emitting the most hexavalent chromium, install the best available emissions reduction equipment.

If the stacks are installed and other control measures employed as suggested by the AQMD, the maximum cancer risk would be reduced by 98.9% to the range of 6.9 to 84 cases per million people exposed continuously for 70 years, according to the report.

Meeting Planned

Davidson said AQMD officials would meet with representatives of J & S Chrome and Chrome Crankshaft to seek the changes.

David Davies, vice president of Chrome Crankshaft, said he had not seen the AQMD report, which was released Thursday. But he said his firm would work to comply with any recommendations.

"We intend to take care of what needs to be done," Davies said. "We're trying to run a responsible business here and we don't want anyone to be hurt here, either."

James Mancuso, president of J & S Chrome, said he could not comment until he had seen the report.

A spokeswoman representing the staffs of the Suva schools said a severe reduction or elimination of the emissions must accompany the dilution sought by installing the exhaust stacks.

"It's just going to be dispersed into the greater community," said Roberta Swanson, an eighth-grade teacher at Suva Intermediate. "Dispersing it more doesn't make us feel more confident. It's just not an honorable solution to throw it around somewhere else."

The pollution problem was first detected last October, when the state Air Resources Board took air samples near the schools and found ground-level concentrations of hexavalent chromium ranging from 10 to 40 nanograms per cubic meter of air. Studies indicate that long-term or lifetime exposure to one nanogram of hexavalent chromium per cubic meter of air will result in 12 to 150 additional cancer cases per million people, said Cliff Popejoy, an air pollution specialist with the state Air Resources Board. A nanogram is one billionth of a gram.

Follow-Up Testing

In follow-up testing, the maximum concentration of hexavalent chromium detected during a six-hour period at the schools was 13 nanograms, according to an AQMD report. A computer model projected an annual worst case concentration of 240 nanograms per cubic meter east of the schools.

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