Air Board OKs Funds for Study on Response to Toxic Disaster

The South Coast Air Quality Management District board Friday appropriated $98,000 for a study of government and industry's ability to repond to a catastrophic area-wide chemical disaster.

The study, which is expected to take six months to complete, was ordered in the wake of the deadly gas leak Dec. 3 at the Union Carbide plant in Bhopal, India, where more than 2,000 people were killed.

Although two district officials said a Bhopal-type emergency in the South Coast Air Basin was less likely because of existing safety precautions, a serious incident was not ruled out by persons contacted in an initial survey by a private consultant.

Limitations Noted

Moreover, district officials said most emergency planning is limited to responding to local situations and that there have been little or no preparations to coordinate the activities of 41 separate local, state and federal government agencies and seven private organizations that could play a role in a major disaster.

"There doesn't seem to be any particular preparation for evacuation," district executive officer Jeb Stuart said.

Jim Birakos, chief deputy executive officer, added that the information gathered in the study would be made available to all 41 agencies. But, he said it was "uncertain" if and how any study recommendations would be implemented.

Birakos reported that the South Coast Air Quality Management District unilaterally decided to conduct the study because he said that it appeared that no single government agency had been assigned responsibility to coordinate emergency operations in a major disaster.

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