Drive Started for Initiative to Strengthen Toxic Controls

Times Staff Writer

A coalition of health officials and environmental groups Tuesday kicked off a campaign to qualify a tough toxics control initiative for the November ballot.

Backers of the measure said it would provide new safeguards for drinking water and require consumer warnings on products ranging from food to cosmetics that contain known cancer-causing chemicals.

"It's long past time to get tough on toxics. It's long past time to take back a little control over the future of toxic chemicals in this state," senior Environmental Defense Fund attorney David Roe said Tuesday at a Los Angeles press conference.

Backers of the initiative, which also include representatives of labor unions concerned about toxics in the workplace and government officials, must collect at least 393,835 valid signatures of registered voters by May 26 to qualify for the November ballot.

Backers said the initiative is needed to prevent further contamination of drinking water supplies, noting that numerous contaminated water wells in the Los Angeles basin have either been shut down or the tainted water is being blended with other water to reduce toxic concentrations to levels deemed acceptable by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

The campaign for the proposed "Safe Drinking Water and Toxic Enforcement Act of 1986" comes at a time when toxic contamination is emerging as a major issue in the gubernatorial campaign between Los Angeles Mayor Tom Bradley, a Democrat, and Gov. George Deukmejian, a Republican.

Spokesmen for Deukmejian and Bradley said Tuesday that the candidates are studying the initiative proposal and do not expect to announce their position until it has qualified for the ballot.

However, Los Angeles Deputy Mayor Tom Houston charged that the initiative, which he helped draft, was the result of Deukmejian's failure to adequately protect the public from toxic chemicals. "Mayor Bradley can understand why the people would want to take these very important issues into their own hands," Houston said.

Kevin Brett, Deukmejian's deputy press secretary, assailed Bradley's environmental record and added, "It's very obvious from Houston's comments that . . . the purpose of the initiative is to advance the mayor's political ambitions, not to protect the general public."

The proposal's two major provisions would:

- Prohibit the knowing discharge of chemicals that could get into the drinking water which are known to cause cancer or birth defects and other health problems.

- Prohibit any business employing more than 10 people from knowingly and intentionally exposing any individual to a chemical known to cause cancer or reproductive toxicity without first providing a "clear and reasonable" warning, such as those found on cigarette packages.

Increase in Penalties

The measure would double fines and prison sentences for polluters and give private citizens legal standing to bring suit to enforce the laws, even if they cannot show they have been harmed.

Maximum fines of $50,000 a day for knowingly polluting drinking water would be doubled to $100,000 a day, and prison terms would be extended to six years from three years in cases where great bodily injury or death resulted.

Government employees who knowingly cover up violations of the law would be subject to fines, imprisonment and loss of their jobs. Local police agencies would be given a portion of any fines collected as an incentive to step up enforcement.

Among those endorsing the proposal at press conferences in Los Angeles, San Francisco and Sacramento were Dr. E. Richard Brown, assistant professor of the UCLA School of Public Health; Dr. Robert Harrison, assistant clinical professor of medicine at the University of California, San Francisco; Allen Jonas of the American Cancer Society; Barry Groveman, special assistant in the Los Angeles district attorney's office; Commissioner Albert Gersten Jr. of the state Little Hoover Commission, as well as representatives of the League of Conservation Voters, Sierra Club, Consumer's Union and the Natural Resources Defense Council.

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