Responding to complaints about the handling of a chemical release in Carson last month, the Carson station of the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department says it will change its procedures for notifying schools of emergency situations.
Sheriff's Lt. Gary Holland says his station will now contact the Los Angeles Unified School District about chemical releases even if they are not considered a serious threat to public health.
Holland says he will also suggest that the department change its notification procedures countywide and consider updating them for other institutions besides schools. "We may also have to consider other public and private entities, convalescent homes, for instance," he said.
Prompting the change are complaints about a Nov. 16 chemical release at the Shell Oil Co. refinery in Carson. The release sent a low-flying chemical cloud drifting west and southwest from the refinery, at Wilmington Avenue and Del Amo Boulevard.
The cloud carried potentially toxic hydrogen sulfide, but not enough to pose a serious health threat. So emergency authorities did not call local school officials.
Still, many in the cloud's path--some Carson students among them--complained of breathing difficulties, eye irritation, headaches and other problems.
Alan Guttman, a Carson elementary schoolteacher, and Carson resident Colleen Garcia-Butler complained to local authorities that schools in the area should have been warned about the cloud.
On Tuesday, Guttman and Garcia-Butler discussed the matter with Holland and other local officials during a meeting hosted by Shell. Participants say Holland pledged that in future incidents, such as the Shell release, his station will notify school district police, who will then telephone the appropriate schools.
In the past, he said Wednesday, the Sheriff's Department has only notified school officials if county health and fire officials determined that a chemical release posed a public health hazard. Now, he said, the potential for such problems as pungent odors and eye irritation will also be considered grounds for notifying schools.
"Part of what we did (Tuesday) was redefine what a hazard is," Holland said. "Even if a material drifts off site and only results in odor, we'll notify. I'm convinced now that (schools) need to know."
Guttman and Garcia-Butler said they were encouraged by Tuesday's meeting. "The Los Angeles Unified School District will now be put in the loop . . . " Guttman said. "Hopefully, I can go back to being a kindergarten teacher."