The paint manufacturing segment of the chemical industry in particular has had to make radical adjustments in the past year to produce oil-base paints and coatings with low enough solvent levels to meet stricter air pollution standards. More recently, area furniture manufacturers, automobile paint shops and the South Coast Air Quality Management District have clashed over a proposed crackdown on the way paint, varnish and other coatings are applied to wood furniture and cabinets as well as paint for cars.
Peters of Trail Chemical, an industrial coatings manufacturer, said he knows of some businesses that are thinking of moving their industrial coating and painting operations to Mexico to avoid the regulations.
"I would say most people are simply adapting, not moving," he said. "They're here and their vested interest is here in real estate and equipment and those things are not easily moved."
Other than the paint industry regulations, the AQMD said it has not particularly targeted the chemical industry in its rule making. Nonetheless, the industry has a long list of local, state and federal regulations on pollution control and safety with which it must comply.
"This comes as a shock to everyone but we (the chemical industry) are not a major contributor to the waste stream and air pollution problems," Davis said. "Because we live with chemicals, we're the industry that's (adapted)."
In the wake of the 1984 Bhopal chemical disaster in India, the industry took a careful look at its safety measures and emergency preparedness plans and found that "a large majority of chemical facilities in California are well prepared to cope with emergencies within the facility site," according to a report prepared for Gov. George Deukmejian by the Chemical Industry Council.
Still, accidents do occur--such as the one early this month when a toxic cloud escaped from a chemical plant in the City of Industry, resulting in eight injuries and the evacuation of about 700 people in a four-square-mile area. In addition, Southern California has its share of hazardous waste sites traced to dumping in past years by chemical companies and firms that use chemicals in manufacturing.
Kraft says American Vanguard's chemical plant was out of commission for only a few hours after the October earthquake despite its proximity to the epicenter in Whittier. The company has regular emergency drills to prepare for a wide range of mishaps in addition to earthquakes. Workers, air and water in the factory are constantly monitored for contamination.
HASA Redesigned Plant
"We made a decision about 12 years ago that in order to continue in the chemical business, anytime they would pass a rule we would comply," Kraft said. "We have found that most other people don't want to do that so they have begun to drop out and we fill the vacuum.
"We geared up a long time ago so when they started passing these rules, it didn't matter," he said.
HASA Inc. of Saugus, a producer of swimming pool chemicals with $8 million in annual sales, was in a similar position about six years ago, President Don Wilson said.
"We used to put all our waste water in the ground" or they would truck water and used plastic bottles to dumps, he said. Then "Los Angeles County and the state got on us so bad and the cost of hauling the stuff to the dump got prohibitive."
Wilson redesigned the plant so that water would flow to a gutter in the center that would take it to be recycled into the company's product. Plastic bottles are now crushed and sold to the plastics industry.
"I decided to go to work and solve our own problem," Wislon said. "Everything we use is regenerated."
At Filtrol Corp., which produces light gray dust particles called fluid cracking catalysts that allow refineries to produce gas more cheaply, dust containment at its Vernon factory is the main environmental concern.
"So we have to have very tight containment," said Dave Kjos, director of operations for Filtrol, a 312-employee subsidiary of Oakland-based KaiserTech. However, Kjos added, the company would have to do the same anywhere in the United States.
"I don't think the regulations are any tougher here than anywhere else," he said. Regulations such as the 1986 anti-toxics initiative known as Proposition 65 "mean additional paper work, additional auditing, additional training and that sort of thing, but it's all for the right purpose and we don't have a problem with them."
The many regulations "feel like a hardship only because of the frustration and the tremendous amount of paper work that goes on, but it's not going to put anybody out of business," Davis said.
In fact, it's not even slowing down industry growth, he said.
"Frankly, in spite of the attempts by our government to put us out of business, we're doing very well," Davis said. "I don't see any evidence of the chemical industry leaving California. In fact, the opposite is true because the market is here."