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Less Pollution a Silver Lining in Cloud of Toxic Output


Manufacturers reported releasing more than 7.9 million pounds of toxic emissions into the air in the Southeast/Long Beach area in 1990, with companies in Long Beach, Commerce and Santa Fe Springs accounting for most of that pollution.

The amount of toxic air emissions, which include substances that cause cancer, damage the body's organs and erode the Earth's protective ozone layer, was a little less than the previous year, when 8.2 million pounds were emitted, according to the firms' own estimates.

Toxic emissions add to the health risk posed by more-common pollutants that damage the lungs and deprive the body of life-sustaining oxygen.

The manufacturers are required to provide estimates of their toxic emissions to the government under a "community right-to-know" law, which was adopted by Congress in 1986. More than 300 toxic substances are covered by the reporting program, which does not regulate toxic pollution or analyze the health risk it presents.

Local air pollution officials said the drop in toxic emissions is encouraging, but they also noted that the reporting program does not provide a complete picture. The program does not cover major sources of pollution such as chemical and fuel storage yards, industrial dry cleaners and government facilities.

In addition, further study is needed to predict the cumulative health risk posed by the myriad of toxic pollutants, officials said. The level of exposure, which is affected by distance from the source of pollution, wind direction and geography, is the key factor, they added.

A 1988 study by the South Coast Air Quality Management District predicted that residents spending a lifetime in the Long Beach area have a chance of 1,086 in 1 million of contracting cancer as a direct result of toxic pollutants in the air. Theoretically, if 1 million people were to spend 70 years in the area, 1,086 would develop cancer. The cancer risk in Bell Gardens and Maywood was placed at 902 in 1 million.

But that study may have understated the risk, officials said. It included 20 especially toxic pollutants, but there are hundreds of other pollutants as well.

"The bottom line behind air toxics is exposure. What are people being exposed to?" said Robert R. Pease, planning manager of the AQMD's toxics section. "We can't get a picture of that (yet)." The AQMD is the local agency that regulates air pollution from factories and other stationary sources.

Douglas Aircraft Co. in Long Beach was the largest single source of toxic emissions in the Southeast/Long Beach area in 1990. With 1.37 million pounds of toxic pollution, the airplane manufacturer was the fourth largest emitter of toxic air pollution in California in 1990, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's reporting program.

The second largest emitter in Southeast/Long Beach was Hickory Springs of California, a City of Commerce firm that discharged 1.02 million pounds of toxic emissions in 1990. The firm manufactures polyurethane foam for furniture and other products.

Because of Douglas Aircraft, Long Beach accounted for the most toxic emissions among Southeast area cities in 1990. Manufacturing firms in the city discharged 1.74 million pounds of toxic substances.

Commerce was next at 1.13 million pounds, with Hickory Springs as the major source.

Manufacturers in Santa Fe Springs discharged 1.07 million pounds of toxic emissions. Le Fiell Manufacturing Co., which produces boat and aerospace parts, was Santa Fe Springs' largest source of toxic emissions, discharging 221,000 pounds.

Manufacturing firms within the Compton city limits put out about 572,000 pounds, but the emissions climb to 1.52 million pounds when a firm in the unincorporated area near Compton is included. Crain Industries, which manufactures polyurethane foam for furniture and other products, accounted for more than 950,000 pounds.

Officials from the four cities said they are concerned about toxic air pollution, but they defer to the AQMD and to state and federal agencies to regulate such emissions.

Long Beach Councilman Ray Grabinski, who has been active in environmental issues, said many manufacturers are trying to reduce emissions, but more improvement is needed.

"Clearly the public and business, in general, has been acting fat, dumb and happy about putting out emissions," Grabinski said.

The toxic emissions are from chemicals considered essential to manufacturing items ranging from commercial jetliners to camper shells and printed flyers.

The solvent 1,1,1-trichloroethane, TCA for short, accounts for a good deal of the local emissions. TCA is used as a cleaner and as a degreaser of metal. Printers, for example, use it to wipe down press rollers, and manufacturers of aerospace parts use it to leave high-tech parts sparkling clean. TCA made the government's toxic list because it depletes the Earth's ozone layer, which protects against the sun's harmful ultraviolet rays.

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