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AQMD Lights a Fire Under Business : Pollution: A ban on charcoal starter fluids should help William Brady. Why? His company manufactures electrical starters for barbecues.


MONROVIA — After three years of manufacturing electric charcoal starters, William Brady expects his business to begin smoking.

Under a new rule mandated by the South Coast Air Quality Management District, lighter fluid and self-starting charcoal will be banned beginning in January, 1992, unless they can be reformulated to emit 80% less pollution. The AQMD ban will probably benefit Brady's Monrovia-based company, Meteor Inc., which he bought three years ago. The company, apparently the only manufacturer of electric lighters in the western United States, makes 225,000 each year. Meteor has also has started making metal chimneys for starting fires manually. Those should hit the market in early 1991.

The company employs about 20 people. Brady said he anticipated increased demand for both products with the AQMD rule, and probably will add more employees. But he said it is too soon to say how many or what other new marketing he might do.

When the company was formed 25 years ago, environmental issues were not a concern, Brady said. "We didn't get into the business to make the environment safe," he said. "It's the quickest, safest and cheapest way to start a barbecue. And it doesn't leave a (lighter) fluid taste."

With an electric starter, Brady said, it takes from eight to 10 minutes to heat the coals. He said prices for electric starters range from $6 to $15, and average $10 for a chimney starter, which is a metal cylinder that can be stuffed with newspaper under the coals. Each lasts about five years, he said.

Brady said his company is the only manufacturer west of St. Louis that makes electric lighters. "It's not a big market," he said. "The manufacturing process is complex."

Brady's assertion may be true, said Sandy Burton, executive director of the Barbecue Industry Assn. in Naperville, Ill., which represents manufacturers and suppliers of barbecue products. She said Meteor and Jackes-Evans Manufacturing Co. of St. Louis are the only two national manufacturers of non-polluting barbecue parts.

In addition to barbecue products, Meteor also sells indoor grills, freezer defrosters and various cooking utensils, Brady said. Total sales are about $5 million a year, he said.

The devices are sold at drug, discount and building supply stores for now, but Brady hopes that the new rule will cause major grocery-store chains to seek him out to replace liquid lighter fluid on their shelves.

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