The Los Angeles Fire Department has failed to properly inspect hundreds of hazardous sites scattered across the city, exposing the public to increased risks from potential spills and mishandling of toxic substances, according to a state report released Friday.
The 24-page study, written by the California Environmental Protection Agency, reviewed how the Fire Department enforces state regulations on toxic materials within the city limits.
"Their program has fallen apart," said Jim Bohon, head of the Cal/EPA unit that conducted the review. "They are failing in environmental management in a very gross way."
The findings highlight a weak spot in a patchwork system of state and local agencies charged with keeping the groundwater, bays and soils free of dangerous contaminants, especially those in areas near urban dwellers.
City fire inspectors were cited for 19 deficiencies, including a failure to properly visit all of the chemical factories, gas stations, laboratories and other storage facilities that house dangerous substances. In some cases, the city failed to properly ensure some hazardous waste handlers were testing for leaks and other dangerous conditions, the report said.
"Fire guys like to put out fires and rescue people," Bohon said. "They aren't liking as much to go out and make sure people are [checking] their underground tank properly."
The new report echoes concerns in a 2011 state review that also gave LAFD a failing grade.
State officials may move to assign Los Angeles inspection duties elsewhere if the department doesn't fix its problems, the report said.
Fire Chief Ralph M. Terrazas issued a statement pledging an immediate overhaul.
"I am disappointed that we lost focus," Terrazas said. But he expressed confidence in "the positive steps we are taking to correct these mistakes."
The state inspection system was the subject of a series of Times stories in 2013. Those reports documented deep flaws in the overall oversight of hazardous waste operations, including the controversial Exide Technologies battery plant in Vernon that has caused a furor in surrounding communities.
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