Dust Pollution Problem Remains in Doubt : Firms May Evade Petroleum Coke Rule

Times Staff Writer

The South Coast Air Quality Management District, citing confusing testimony at two public hearings last month, said more study is needed to determine whether petroleum coke stockpilers should be required to enclose their operations to control dust pollution.

District Executive Officer Jeb Stuart said he would not exempt the firms that are storing coke at 10 of 11 sites scattered throughout the South Bay and Long Beach areas from a new regulation prohibiting the open storage of the product. The regulation went into effect Jan. 1.

However, Stuart said, he would not object to the district hearing board's giving the firms variances to operate uncovered up to nine months to give the district more time to determine whether the coke dust is still a serious problem.

Stuart's ruling came last week after the eight firms asked the air quality district to waive the new regulation. The firms contended that newly adopted interim measures, such as watering down the piles on a regular basis and washing coke trucks before they leave the yards, have curbed the pollution problem.

While the district logged only two formal complaints about excessive coke dust last year, Stuart said there was insufficient and confusing testimony at the hearings for the district to determine whether the interim measures have solved the problem. Moreover, Stuart said, it is unclear whether complaints lodged by some residents at the hearings were a result of dust from the coke piles or from other sources.

"It was difficult to pin down specific evidence that would say how well the interim measures were working," Stuart said. He added that he felt it would be inappropriate to require the firms to enclose their operations until the district is able to collect more information.

Stuart said he issued a ruling, based on the hearings, that only one of the 11 coke storage yard--International Minerals and Chemical Corp.'s Reeves Field facility at the Port of Los Angeles--should be exempted from the new requirement that the piles be covered and should be given a variance to operate under the interim measures. The district has received no complaints about the facility, he said.

Angry Residents

The district adopted the rule requiring coke storage operators to cover their yards in December, 1983. The rule came after angry Wilmington residents complained that petroleum coke dust was blanketing their homes and cars and posed a health threat.

The petroleum coke stockpilers have maintained that enclosing could force some firms out of business. Enclosing the piles, some of which stretch over acres and reach heights of up to 70 feet, would cost tens of millions of dollars, they said.

If the firms are granted variances to operate up to nine months without covering the piles--an action several district officials say is likely--two inspectors will be assigned full time to monitor the coke operations and determine the exact source of any problems, Stuart said.

After the nine-month period, he said, more public hearings would be held to decide if the operators should cover their facilities or be allowed to operate under the interim measures.

Norm Pennels, manager of the Atlantic Richfield refinery in Carson, expressed confidence that the hearing board would grant a variance to his firm until the district can conduct further studies.

"I think the interim measures . . . are 100% adequate," he said. "Apparently the AQMD wants to do some more testing and get some physical proof rather than depend on their judgment. That is their prerogative and maybe their responsibility."

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