A bill to protect schoolchildren from the threat of harmful emissions released by nearby factories is on its way to the governor's desk after being passed overwhelmingly by both houses of the Legislature last week in the waning hours of the legislative session.
The bill, AB 3205, co-written by Assemblywoman Maxine Waters (D-Los Angeles), will place more stringent air-pollution control regulations on industrial plants that use hazardous materials if they are within 1,000 feet of a school, hospital or convalescent home.
The state Senate voted, 37 to 0, to pass the bill late Wednesday night, after which the Assembly concurred by a vote of 55 to 16.
"This is a major system reform in plugging a lot of gaps in the existing legislation," Waters aide Stan Diorio said. "I can't guarantee that this legislation is going to stop accidents, but I can guarantee that it gives (air quality management districts) the tools to prevent accidents."
The bill was prompted by a release in January at Plato Products Inc., a soldering-tip manufacturing plant in Glendora. Pungent fumes from acetic acid, used in the plant's nickel-plating operation, escaped through an open door and caused 100 children next door at Arma J. Shull School in San Dimas to suffer headaches, nausea and respiratory troubles.
Inhaled Chlorine Fumes
The bill's proponents also cited a 1986 case in which 28 students at Tweedy Elementary School in South Gate were hospitalized after inhaling chlorine fumes leaked from a nearby plant.
In the wake of the San Dimas incident, officials of the Bonita Unified School District, the South Coast Air Quality Management District and the county Department of Health Services urged legislators to enact greater controls.
"I would like to think this is a clear victory for the children of California," said Bonita school board member Sharon Scott, who sent letters last weekend to all 120 legislators seeking their support. "It would appear that it was well worth the work and effort."
Prospects for the bill's passage were greatly enhanced earlier in the week when it was amended to mollify two groups representing industry that had opposed the measure, saying some of its provisions would result in arbitrary and meddlesome regulation.
Proponents say industry opposition was instrumental in the defeat earlier this year of two similar bills concerning factories and schools--one by Waters, the other by Assemblyman Bill Lancaster (R-Covina). After her previous bill was defeated, Waters was able to reintroduce the legislation by amending another toxics bill by Assemblywoman Sally Tanner (D-El Monte).
Under the proposed law, agencies such as the South Coast Air Quality Management District can investigate complaints from school officials of a potential health threat from a nearby factory and, if they find that a danger exists, require the plant to install pollution control equipment.
Gene Fisher, intergovernmental affairs officer for the South Coast Air Quality Management District (AQMD), said the proposed law will significantly bolster the agency's ability to prevent accidental releases of toxic pollutants.
The bill will also require cities and counties, before issuing a building permit, to make certain that a firm planning to construct a plant near a school, hospital or convalescent home has received necessary permits from air-pollution control officials.
School officials choosing a location for a new school will be required to determine whether the site is near any potentially hazardous plants. Firms will also be prohibited from building such a plant within a mile of a school without consulting the school district.
As originally drafted, the bill also would have enabled air-pollution control officials to deny a permit for a new plant based on a statistical health-risk assessment and would have given them authority to revoke an existing plant's permit "if no . . . (other) measure will protect the public health."
Those provisions were staunchly opposed by the California Manufacturers Assn., which represents more than 800 firms statewide, and the California Council for Environmental and Economic Balance (CCEEB), whose membership includes several major oil, chemical and utility companies as well as labor unions.
Risk Studies Doubted
Industry lobbyists complained that health-risk assessments, which estimate the maximum health threat posed by the plant through the use of computer models based on measured emissions, were "scientifically unsound." They also argued that air quality districts already have the authority to revoke a plant's permit if it is found to threaten public health, so that additional legislation would be superfluous.
Water's staff agreed to remove the provisions last weekend after several days of negotiations with industry representatives. The industry groups changed their position from opposition to neutrality on Monday, and the amended version of the bill was distributed at 4 p.m. Wednesday.