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Palm Latitudes

Close-up

May 05, 1991|J udy Berlfein | Edited by Mary McNamara

Dr. Katy Wolf makes house calls. Not to people, but to troubled small businesses, like the local dry cleaners or roller-skate wheel manufacturer. Her patients have one thing in common: They guzzle hazardous compounds, and each is beginning to sink under new environmental regulations.

Many of them cannot afford to completely rehaul their operations; many of them cannot afford to hire a consultant in the first place. That's where Wolf comes in. Her year-old non-profit organization, Institute for Research and Technical Assistance, in Los Angeles, offers environmental cleanup prescriptions that consider the needs of the business as well as the planet. So far, she has advised more than 50 companies, from General Dynamics to local furniture refinishers. And her examinations are free. With a Ph.D. in chemical physics and 14 years of environmental research with the Rand Corp., Wolf, 44, is funded by private and government grants. "We're not trying to push any particular product," she says. "We're just trying to do what's best for the company and the environment."

Sometimes her solutions seem painfully obvious. J&H Deburring Inc., for instance, is a small warehouse operation in Anaheim that cleans parts--from huge steel bolts to small flashlight casings. But new regulations will soon outlaw plant owner Harold Thurber's cleaning solvent, 111-trichloroethane. So Wolf suggests he switch to less hazardous cleaning additives and water, and gives him a list of those that will do the job without adding poisons to the environment.

"Small businesses don't have the time to devote to understanding everything (about regulations)," she says. "They're trying to make a product. If somebody doesn't help them, a lot of them are going to go out of business. And can you imagine Los Angeles without any dry cleaners?"

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