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Task Force Is Sought to Help Combat Pollution

Cancer: Mayor issues call after study finds air in Huntington Park is among the county's worst.

November 16, 1999|HUGO MARTIN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Responding to a study that found Huntington Park residents breathe some of the dirtiest air in the region, the city's mayor called Monday for a task force to propose pollution cutting strategies.

Mayor Rosario Marin's proposal came in response to a study released last week by the South Coast Air Quality Management District that found cancer risks from air pollution are the greatest in Huntington Park, Pico Rivera and other communities in the county's southern portions close to the Long Beach and Santa Ana freeways.

The study blamed most of the pollution on diesel vehicles, such as big-rig trucks and buses that spew carbon soot that health experts have linked to lung disease.

Marin said she expects that the task force will include state, federal and local government representatives as well as environmental activists. She will charge the group with trying to increase penalties and enforcement against the owners of buses, trucks and businesses that emit excessive pollution.

"I want it to be as comprehensive a plan as possible," she said. "It cannot be a Band-Aid approach."

She also wants the task force to tackle one of the city's most stubborn environmental problem: la montana, a mountain of rubble that residents say is responsible for dust that is blamed for health problems among nearby children and the elderly.

Marin suggests that the task force find funding to buy the rubble heap site, clear it and develop it as a park.

"To me, that would be a dream come true," she said.

Businessman Sam Chew created the pile when he accepted rubble from freeways that crumbled in the 1994 Northridge earthquake. He planned to crush the 375,000-ton mountain of concrete and sell it as road base or for other uses. The city declared the business a public nuisance and Chew filed for bankruptcy in February, blocking the city's efforts to clear the rubble.

Chew attributes the health problems to adjoining industries, such as a lumberyard.

The AQMD study was intended to determine whether minority and poor areas are disproportionally harmed by toxic air pollution. The AQMD took air measurements from 10 fixed monitors and several mobile monitors throughout Los Angeles, Orange, Riverside and San Bernardino counties.

The study said the monitor in Huntington Park showed the highest risk of cancer from air pollution. But Marin said air pollution caused by diesel vehicles is a problem that plagues many communities in southeast Los Angeles County.

Alvaro Huerta, a spokesman for Communities for a Better Environment, a local nonprofit advocacy group, said Marin's task force is "a good idea" and he offered his group's services.

In addition to requiring regular smog checks for vehicle registrations, the state Air Resources Board deploys 16 inspectors at freeway weigh stations and other locations throughout the state looking for cars, trucks and buses that emit excessive smoke.

The inspectors impose an $800 "fix it" ticket on violators. If vehicle owners repair the problem within 45 days, $500 is refunded.

Jerry Martin, a spokesman for the state Air Resources Board, said police departments and municipal judges can impose harsher fines.

The mayor also wants the task force to demand that the Metropolitan Transportation Authority use alternative fuel buses in the Huntington Park area.

The MTA's 1,900 buses include more than 700 powered by compressed natural gas, with the remainder powered by diesel engines. The MTA board already vowed to buy only natural gas buses.

But MTA spokesman Rick Jager said the MTA cannot restrict the natural gas buses to one area because the fueling facilities are scattered throughout the county.

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