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Toxic Emissions Reports Are Incomplete : Survey: Some industries are exempt; many chemicals are not listed, and the reports themselves are often inaccurate.

December 01, 1991|BERKLEY HUDSON | TIMES STAFF WRITER

The annual reports companies file on toxic air emissions offer only a partial, hazy snapshot of the volume of chemicals released each year into air, land and water of the United States.

The federal toxic release inventory law covers only manufacturers, exempting entire industries such as agribusiness and mining operations, government facilities and electric utility plants.

A further gap results from the incomplete list of chemicals subject to the inventory. Three hundred and forty chemicals are monitored. But hundreds more are not, and manufacturers who use less than 10,000 pounds of a listed chemical don't have to report it.

Even within the limited scope, the federal survey is compromised by inaccuracies and reporting omissions. The experiences of two local operations of international firms--Miller Brewing Co. and E. I. du Pont De Nemours & Co.--illustrate the extent to which the reporting can be flawed.

In the case of Miller, the mistake was with its ammonia air emissions reported for 1987, the first year required of the inventory. That year, the firm reported, that in the process of using a refrigeration piping system that snakes through the cavernous Irwindale plant and cools beer in huge tanks, it released 100,000 pounds of ammonia into the air around the Foothill Freeway facility.

For the two subsequent years, the amount reported dropped to 19,000 pounds. By last year, it was 8,450 pounds.

The big drop, Miller officials sheepishly acknowledged in a recent interview, actually resulted from a case of over-reporting of the 1987 figure.

Miller spokesman Victor Franco explained the plummet by saying that the 1987 air emissions total included an extra 75,000 pounds of ammonia that had been purchased for a new refrigeration system being installed that year. However, he said, only a fraction of the 75,000 pounds was injected into the system. Even less, he said, would have escaped into the air.

"There seems to have been some error in reporting of the ammonia released," Franco said. "I've got to believe if we were confused and reported inaccurately, other companies did the same."

Now, he said, "we have a state-of-the-art refrigeration system." Emissions today, he said, are restricted to times of occasional maintenance, resulting in 8,200 pounds of ammonia being vented annually.

Du Pont officials in Pomona also speak of the difficulty of measuring emissions from railroad tank cars that bring ozone-depleting Freon from a Du Pont plant in Texas.

In 1989, the firm reported 200 pounds of Freon emissions. Last year the amount jumped to 10,800.

Don Richards, Du Pont's site manager, said he was puzzled by the rise since sales, largely to aerospace companies in the Southland, have been declining. He attributed the emissions increase to inconsistent scales used to weigh the tank cars and to a new method for calculating losses.

"There are friendly scales and unfriendly scales," he said. "Some years we actually show a gain. Because we handle several millions of pounds, there can be a lot of inconsistency."

Despite reporting discrepancies and shortcomings, Hacienda Heights environmentalist Wil Baca, who is a board member of the Venice-based Coalition for Clean Air, said the annual toxic inventory serves "as a good starting point and it becomes an early warning system for potential pollution problems."

Plus, he said, the inventory allows the public to "take a look at whether these companies are doing all they can to minimize damage to the environment."

Times staff writer Rose Kim contributed to this report.

Enforcement

To enforce the reporting requirements of the federal Toxic Release Inventory, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has concentrated on tracking down firms that fail to file.

At least two San Gabriel Valley firms have been among the 48 issued citations in California.

Estee Battery Co. in the City of Industry faces a $126,000 civil penalty for failing to report its emissions of six toxic chemicals. Federal officials said negotiations are still under way on the 1987 complaint.

A Pomona scientific instruments firm, the Perkin-Elmer Co., was cited for failing to report in 1987 and last year agreed to pay a $5,000 civil fine and to install equipment that would produce a beneficial effect on the environment.

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