Assembly Passes Bill to Require Toxic Warnings From Government Agencies

Times Staff Writer

The Assembly passed legislation Wednesday requiring state, county and city agencies to warn the public any time government action exposes individuals to hazardous levels of toxic chemicals.

The measure, approved by a vote of 67 to 1, would subject all state and local agencies to the warning requirements of Proposition 65, the anti-toxics initiative approved by the voters in 1986.

The bill by Assemblyman Richard Katz (D-Sepulveda), among other things, would require agencies that provide drinking water to warn consumers when toxic chemicals reach unsafe levels.

"It's going to force public agencies to tell people what's in the water," Katz said after the vote. "Whether the source is public or private, you have a right to know what's in your drinking water."

Warning Required

Proposition 65 requires businesses to provide warnings if they expose members of the public to any of about 200 chemicals identified by the state as causing cancer or birth defects. Government agencies, however, were not covered by the initiative, an omission the Katz bill would remedy.

The initiative also bans businesses from discharging cancer-causing chemicals into potential drinking water supplies, but the Katz bill would not extend this provision to government agencies.

Katz's bill has the support of the Sierra Club and other backers of Proposition 65. It also has the endorsement of business groups that hope they may get some relief from the measure if government officials are forced to share in the misery of implementing it. The bill now goes to the state Senate.

During the campaign over the initiative, business officials who led the opposition seized on the exclusion of public agencies as a major flaw in the measure. They charged in television ads and on billboards that Proposition 65 was "full of exemptions."

Aimed at Worst Polluters

Sponsors of the initiative said at the time that Proposition 65 was aimed only at the worst polluters--business and industry--and was not intended to solve all the state's toxic problems.

But Katz, who also supported the initiative, said government agencies were left out in part to avoid alienating officials, such as Los Angeles Mayor Tom Bradley, who supported the ballot measure.

"It was part of the arrangement with the City of Los Angeles to get support for the bill," Katz said.

Public agencies that operate drinking water and sewage systems would be most directly affected by the bill. For example, any time chloroform--a byproduct of the chlorination of drinking water--exceeded the level considered safe, consumers would have to be notified.

Public Concern

In addition, a city would have to warn the public if its sewage system was leaking toxic chemicals into drinking water supplies.

Katz said public concern prompted by such warnings could force government officials to reduce the level of hazardous chemicals that people are exposed to.

"I'm just interested in making sure that the public knows what's in their water regardless of the source," Katz said. "People are going to say, 'I don't want this in my water, do something about it.' "

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