Over the last few months, the City of Paramount has been deeply focused on air quality issues in our industrial sector that were discovered by the South Coast Air Quality Management District (SCAQMD). Many voices have been involved in wide-ranging discussions on this subject, all of them driven by a concern for the health of community members.
One of those voices has been Lisa Lappin, a teacher in the Paramount Unified School District and someone whose dedication to this issue I respect.
Ms. Lappin recently wrote a guest commentary entitled “We’re ill-served by state pollution regulators.” The City feels a responsibility to clarify some key facts that were made in the piece.
Paramount is not home to “more than a hundred metal companies,” a number seemingly meant to suggest that metal pollutants are saturating our city of less than five square miles. The actual number of metal-related companies here is 85, although that figure does not tell the whole story.
Of the 85 metal-related businesses there are 17 that perform heat treating, grinding, plating, or forging of metal (the types of manufacturing that can produce air quality issues). The remaining 68 companies produce little or no metal emissions. (Think trophy etching, metal screw sales, or aluminum wholesalers.) In fact, after exhaustive inspections by SCAQMD, the Air District determined that these 68 businesses do not require permits for metal-emitting equipment. A list of 17 known emitters is much more manageable to monitor.
The article also stated that the City “refused” the Department of Toxic Substances Control (DTSC) access to parks for soil testing. In actuality, the DTSC requested that testing be done in Village Park in 2013. The City asked if they could test the soil in a landscaped area across the street to avoid disruption of the park’s use. If those samples came back with troubling results, we would gladly allow testing in the park. The soil sampling was conducted and results showed that metals did not exceed residential health-based levels or naturally occurring background levels. Subsequently, DTSC never came back to the City to ask for samples in the park for that 2013 study.
The commentary charges the City with irresponsible zoning that puts industry next to schools, parks, and homes. While challenges exist in our industrial areas, many of the metal-related businesses in town, including those cited by SCAQMD, operate in zones created by Los Angeles County prior to Paramount becoming a city. When we began writing our own zoning rules, the City stopped growth of the industrial area, and actually eliminated some industrial uses. Regardless, making sure that “pollution controls are in place and that polluters are licensed and permitted,” as Ms. Lappin writes, is what SCAQMD was created to do. At the same time, the City Council has enacted a moratorium on new or expanded metal-related businesses while our business licensing procedures and land use plans are revisited to identify long-term solutions.
There are some personal observances about cancer rates in the community. This, of course, is a tragic and painful subject. But it needs to be said that, according to an article in the Los Angeles Times on February 15, 2014, the L.A. County Department of Public Health “found no evidence of a cancer cluster in Paramount.” However, we welcome evaluation of the health of our community by the County Department of Public Health or any qualified scientific organization.
I breathe the same air and walk in the same parks as every other resident of our great city. We all deserve a safe and healthy environment. Does Paramount have “some of the worst air in Los Angeles,” as Ms. Lappin states? Paramount’s air is reflective of being in southeast Los Angeles County. SCAQMD was formed in 1976 – everyone agrees that today’s air quality has significantly improved since 40 years ago. In that context, our region has been well-served by the adoption of regional air quality standards. Still, the City of Paramount will continue to aggressively respond to environmental matters, counting on the experts from regulatory agencies across the state. But we must do so with an understanding of the facts that will make our policy decisions effective.