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Hearing Set on Lab, Toxic Warehouse : Downey Has Fears About New Facility

September 10, 1989|RICK HOLGUIN | Times Staff Writer

DOWNEY — Some city officials would like to see the county drop its plans to build a laboratory and warehouse for storing pesticides, among other things, on the county's Rancho Los Amigos property.

The City Council plans to hold a public hearing Tuesday night to discuss the facility and take community comment. Acting City Manager Lee Powell has requested that county representatives attend to field questions.

"I'm real, real scared of this facility," Councilman Roy L. Paul said in an interview last week.

But the Downey effort is belated. The County Board of Supervisors approved the final environmental impact report on the project in December, 1988, and construction has been under way for months.

The laboratory and warehouse are to be completed next April, said Richard C. Wightman of the office of the Agricultural Commissioner/Department of Weights and Measures, which will use the facility.

Paul recently found out about the pesticide warehouse and brought it to the attention of the council last month. The county submitted a draft environmental impact report to the city in July, 1987, but city officials say they received no further notification and therefore did not bring it to the attention of the council.

Powell, the acting city manager, noted that projects often are dropped after a draft environmental report has been submitted. Wightman said the county notified the city that the report was certified. He also said the county followed all other legal procedures.

"According to the project manager, the final EIR was presented," Wightman said.

Asked whether city officials had the responsibility to follow up on the project after receiving the draft report, Powell said, "Certainly, hindsight being 20/20, we sure wish we had, yes."

City officials brought their concerns to Supervisor Pete Schabarum, who set up a meeting between county and city officials. As far as Schabarum is concerned, the project will move forward, a spokeswoman said. The county was not required to seek city approval for it.

"He's been assured that there's no safety problems that would be caused by it," spokeswoman Judy Hammond said.

Nevertheless, city officials say they'll have plenty of questions on Tuesday.

"If they intend to manufacture chemicals, or to mix them or store them in bulk form or store waste chemicals in there, I would object to that," Mayor Randall R. Barb said.

The laboratory and warehouse will cover 26,900 square feet on a 1.68-acre site near the southwest corner of Imperial Highway and Garfield Avenue. It will replace an aging facility in Pico Rivera.

The laboratory will be used, for example, to ensure that agricultural products brought into the county do not contain excessive amounts of pesticide residue, Wightman said.

The warehouse will be used to store equipment, such as fruit fly traps. But it also will be used to store thousands of pounds of pesticides, herbicides and ground squirrel poison.

Downey officials say they are worried about spills or fumes from fires that could affect workers and passers-by at neighboring county facilities, such as Rancho Los Amigos Medical Center. And there are residential neighborhoods to the southwest.

The environmental impact report notes the possibility of spills at the site but says cleanup equipment, protective clothing and employee training programs will render the danger insignificant.

The facility's work area will be paved and drainage will be directed to a concrete sump to prevent soil contamination, the report said.

The report notes that a spill could occur during an accident involving a vehicle transporting toxic chemicals to and from the facility. It also says a fire at the facility could release toxic fumes and prompt the evacuation of the area.

But the report also notes that the chances of a traffic accident involving a spill are small, and the risk from fumes during a fire would probably be confined to the facility.

The council meeting will begin at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday at Downey City Hall.

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