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Report on Factory Emissions Raises Mother's Concerns

Pollution: Calling data old, plant officials dispute AQMD finding that says discharges result in high cancer risk to area residents.


SYLMAR — Elena Shields says her 13-year-old son, Ryan, suffers early morning coughing fits, while her 12-year-old son, Sean, gets nauseated so often he pops antacid tablets several times a week.

Doctors have been at a loss to offer an explanation, she said.

"They've missed more school because of sickness than ever before," Shields said. "I just want to know what's going on."

Since a report released earlier this month on factory emissions, Shields has become concerned that her sons' health may be suffering because of the Valley-Todeco Inc. factory about two blocks away.

In its report, the South Coast Air Quality Management District said the factory posed the highest cancer risk to area residents among 22 factories in the Los Angeles Basin.

The risk of cancer from Valley-Todeco was reported as 388 cases per 1 million residents--about double that of the next company on the list.

Valley-Todeco officials dispute the report, although they acknowledge using toxic compounds including hexavalent chromium and perchloroethylene to produce bearings and fasteners for the aircraft industry.

Valley-Todeco and other area firms say regulators have painted an unfair picture of their companies--and unnecessarily alarmed residents--with "outdated and inaccurate data."

"If they had even troubled to call the company, they would have found out we have taken drastic steps to curtail their usage and emissions of the chemicals of concern," said Valley-Todeco attorney Peter H. Weiner. "They are crying toxic wolf."

Weiner said he didn't know whether factory emissions were making neighbors sick.

"I don't want to tell anyone what is or isn't the cause of any illness they might have," Weiner said. "But the risk of becoming ill from this plant is extremely low and even 10 years ago was extremely low compared to the risks of breathing Los Angeles air in general."

Under state law passed in 1987, toxic polluters are required to detail toxic emissions in two ways.

Every four years, companies must report precise figures on their toxic emissions. Firms must also develop at least one detailed assessment of cancer risks, which they are free to update any time.

Until recently, companies that exceeded a cancer risk ratio of 100 cases per million people were subject to a maximum penalty of $50,000 per day per violation.

Now air quality officials have tightened those restrictions so that a company cannot exceed a ratio of 25 cases per million residents.

AQMD spokesman Sam Atwood acknowledged that Valley-Todeco had submitted paperwork contending that the firm had significantly reduced levels of two of its primary toxics.

But the company neither detailed those emission reductions nor updated its health-risk assessment, Atwood said.

"It's up to the companies to demonstrate that they have reduced their toxic emissions and their cancer risk to the community," Atwood said. Valley-Todeco officials, he added, "have yet to do that in this case."

Weiner complained that AQMD officials wrote the company Feb. 4 acknowledging that the data AQMD had was out of date and giving the company the opportunity to provide current data and risk information. Despite that, the AQMD put "the old data out as if it were current," he said.

Valley-Todeco will submit a new risk assessment sometime next month based "on current practices," Weiner said.

Officials for Senior Flexonics Inc., a Burbank defense component manufacturer, and Saugus plastics manufacturer Keysor-Century Corp. said cancer risk figures reported for their companies by the AQMD also were overstated.

Keysor-Century issued a press release saying exposure to the company's emissions over four years posed the equivalent risk of cancer as "eating 1 tablespoon of peanut butter" or being in a room with "cigarette smokers for 100 hours."

But regulators defended their policy of disclosure.

"The purpose of the law is to provide information to the public about emissions and the associated health risk," said AQMD spokesman Bill Kelly. "The theory of disclosure is that it's powerful enough to make companies reduce risk emissions voluntarily."

Los Angeles City Councilman Alex Padilla, who represents the Northeast Valley, said the disagreement pointed up the need to balance a healthy environment with jobs.

"Environmental impacts happen over time," Padilla said. "Therefore our monitoring and requirements should reflect what companies do over time."

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