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Smog Agency Audit Casts Doubt on Its Predictions

Times Environmental Writer

More than 60% of 179 firms audited by the South Coast Air Quality Management District have under-reported the air pollution they cause, prompting the smog agency to question its own predictions of when air quality standards will be met in the nation’s smoggiest urban area.

The district’s air pollution regulations and plans for future controls are based in large part on estimates of existing air pollution. If the latest audit by the district is representative of widespread reporting errors by polluting companies, it would make it more difficult for the four-county air basin to meet its goal of achieving federal clean air standards by the year 2007.

However, district officials stressed Friday that it is too early to draw any conclusions. They noted that the 179 firms audited represented only a fraction of the 24,000 companies that have permits from the district. They also said the audit involved only one of several pollutants that contribute to photochemical smog, and that not all the companies audited were randomly selected. Further, they said, two-thirds of the type of pollutant that was subject to the audit are produced by motor vehicles.

“I don’t know how representative that sample is. It’s hard to draw conclusions from it,” said Eugene F. Calafato, chief assistant to AQMD Executive Officer James M. Lents. “Clearly, there could be some impact, but at this point it’s very hard to know what since the data is as sketchy as it is.”

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Still, AQMD governing board Chairman Norton Younglove observed: “Our cleanup program is only as good as the data we receive on who is generating all this pollution.” Younglove said most of the mistakes by companies in reporting their emissions were “honest errors.”

Fees Based on Pollution

District officials, however, noted that this is the first time firms have been audited since a small pilot program in 1985. They said that some companies may have intentionally underestimated their emissions since the fees they pay the district are based on the amount of pollution they produce. The audit examined only one pollutant, reactive organic gases, sometimes called hydrocarbons. Companies are charged a $240 fee for every ton of hydrocarbons they report emitting.

William Dennison, director of the district’s engineering division, said Friday that the audit of the 179 companies resulted in assessing an additional $669,000 in fees and penalties. The fees generate about half the district’s $23.5-million annual budget.

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Dennison said: “We anticipate that largely throughout the sample we looked at that these were honest errors. We know in some cases they were clerical errors.”

Most of the companies under-reporting emissions, however, made smaller errors, the district said. On the other hand, about 20% of the firms over-reported their emissions and were given refunds on their fees by the district. Only 16.6% of the firms produced accurate estimates.

‘Enforcement Action’

The district’s six auditors also found that some of the firms were emitting more than allowed under their air pollution control permits.

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“In these cases we are taking appropriate enforcement action,” said Edward Camarena, AQMD deputy executive officer for operations.

According to the AQMD, the top 15 companies, ranked in order of the extra fees they had to pay, based on re-estimated 1987 emissions, are:

Western Insulfoam, Chino, $29,221; Sundance Spas Inc., Chino, $23,346; B. P. John Furniture Co., Santa Ana, $19,581; Solvent Coating Corp., Gardena, $17,774; Ramco, City of Industry, $15,093.

McDonald Douglas Astronautics Co., Huntington Beach, $12,588; Southern California Gas Co., Northridge, $11,749; Stainless Steel Products, Burbank, $11,146; Metropolitan Circuits Inc., Santa Ana, $10,091; Kimberly-Clark Corp., Fullerton, $9,945.

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Roman Furniture, Los Angeles, $9,038; Times Mirror Press, Los Angeles (sold in 1988 to GTE Directories Press), $9,038; Blafer Woodfinishes, Los Angeles, $8,917; Natter Manufacturing Corp., Temple City, $8,134, and 1-Day Paint and Body, Anaheim, $8,134.

To assist firms in producing more accurate reports, the AQMD said it will hold two free public workshops on Jan. 25 on how to prepare the emission reports. The workshops will last four hours and will begin at 8 a.m. and 1 p.m. at a building next door to AQMD headquarters, 9350 Flair Drive, El Monte.

The audits will be ongoing. The district said it plans to examine at least 10% of the reports filed each year.


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