Assembly Targets South Bay in Study of Chemical Risks

Times Staff Writer

Assembly Speaker Willie L. Brown Jr. has created an eight-member select committee of legislators to recommend how to protect workers and surrounding communities from dangers posed by oil refineries, chemical plants and pipelines.

The committee, which Brown (D-San Francisco) announced Thursday, has a mandate to examine safety problems statewide, but Assemblyman David Elder (D-San Pedro), who will be its chairman, said the panel initially will focus on the South Bay. The heavily populated area has eight major refineries, one of the heaviest concentrations in the country.

Citing the proximity of refineries, chemical plants and pipelines to residential areas, Elder said: “It is terrible to have something noxious-smelling and even those that can make you sick, but what is worse are those things that can kill you.

“I think it is something that needs to be addressed by the Legislature. The public should not be asked to pay the premium on this. We have a lot of work to do.”


Elder said he hopes to begin holding hearings before the summer legislative recess. The committee is to report its recommendations to the Legislature by July, 1990.

A spokesperson for the Western States Petroleum Assn. said it would be premature to comment on the formation of the committee.

In addition to Elder, whose 57th Assembly District includes two refineries, two other South Bay legislators are on the committee--Richard E. Floyd (D-Carson) and Gerald N. Felando (R-San Pedro)--and also have refineries in their districts.

Other members are Sally Tanner (D-Baldwin Park), Byron D. Sher (D-Mountain View), Thomas M. Hannigan (D-Fairfield), Carol Bentley (R-El Cajon) and Frank Hill (R-Whittier).

Elder said he became “sensitized” to pipeline safety in December, 1980, when an eight-inch pipeline carrying naphtha under 900 pounds of pressure per square inch blew up on Gale Avenue in Long Beach, four houses away from where he had lived as a child. The blast damaged 40 cars and 20 houses.

His interest broadened to include refineries in 1985 when, he said, “my son’s soccer coach . . . was killed at the Arco refinery blast” in Carson. Five died and 42 were injured in that accident.

As a legislator, Elder said, he studied the 1984 incident in Bhopal, India, in which about 3,000 people were killed by chemicals leaking from a Union Carbide plant, and he began finding out about the use of toxic chemicals in California.

“When I was made aware of the kinds of chemicals that are routinely handled, I began to be concerned more and more whether plant managers really were technically competent to run the facilities,” he said.


Elder said recent events that spurred him to ask Brown in November to create a select committee included a string of accidents at the Mobil refinery in Torrance that caused three deaths and a dozen injuries in the last two years, chlorine clouds that forced the evacuation of thousands of people in Commerce and Simi Valley, and pipeline ruptures in the San Fernando Valley that poured thousands of gallons of crude oil onto city streets.