In the wake of a disastrous chemical fire in Anaheim earlier this summer, the Orange County Board of Supervisors will hear a report next week on a draft ordinance that would require companies to disclose whether they store hazardous materials.
When the supervisors ordered a study of the controversial issue two months ago, they wanted to know if such a law would be advisable and feasible for the multitude of companies doing business in Orange County. Now, the word is back.
Advisable? “Definitely,” said Robert Griffith, head of the county’s hazardous materials program.
Feasible? “That part of it still needs a lot of work and a lot of effort,” Griffith said Thursday.
The proposed ordinance that the board will be considering next week--and which it hopes the county’s 26 cities will emulate--incorporates some provisions of a plan developed earlier by the Orange County Fire Chiefs Assn.
The proposal, which Griffith said could affect more than 5,000 companies, has been a major concern for cities, which generally await county action before adopting their own ordinances
Some, however, are pressing ahead. Brea fire officials are working on a plan that would go beyond disclosure and include a computerized list of hazardous materials stored by companies.
The Brea ordinance would also specify contingency plans in case of an accident, plus regulation of storage procedures.
Fire and county officials are proposing such ordinances as a result of numerous toxic accidents in Orange County, particularly the fire at an Anaheim pesticide warehouse this summer that caused the evacuation of about 7,500 people.
These officials believe that awareness of the issue by both the public and the business community is increasing. Two years ago, however, a proposed county law requiring disclosure of hazardous materials failed when the business firms protested that it would require them to reveal trade secrets.
This time, Griffith said, the companies “recognize that it is to their advantage to cooperate as much as possible so that if they do have an accident at their plant, it can be taken care of quickly.”
In Irvine, the first Orange County city to adopt such an ordinance, “We have gotten very good cooperation from industry,” said Sylvan Hersh, police emergency services coordinator. Since the ordinance was adopted in December, 1983, after several incidents involving toxic materials, Irvine has had “a decrease in the amount and severity of problems,” Hersh said.
Orange County Assistant Fire Chief Bob Hennessey said disclosure ordinances are needed, not only to protect the public, but also to protect the firefighters who first respond to an emergency involving hazardous materials. “It gives us information that would be easily retrievable so that we know what kind of chemicals we are dealing with,” Hennessey said.
The model ordinance that supervisors will review is “virtually identical” to one tentatively adopted by the City of Orange last month, Griffith said. It requires companies using more than 50 gallons or 500 pounds of hazardous material each year to file reports with the Fire Department every six months.
The county has been compiling inventories of hazardous materials in the unincorporated areas for the past six months, Hennessey said, but officials believe a tough ordinance is needed to ensure compliance.
While optimistic that the county, and later the cities, will require similar inventories, Griffith said there was much work still to be done before the county Fire Department could handle such a great volume of data.
Handling the unincorporated areas--or Irvine’s approximately 150 businesses that deal with hazardous materials--is one thing, but coordinating 5,000 companies for the county is another, Griffith said. The need for such a countywide ordinance is “overwhelming,” he said. “It absolutely would be very useful and helpful.”