Scientist Warns Irvine Council on Ozone Proposal

Times Staff Writer

A chemical physicist warned the Irvine City Council Thursday evening that a sweeping proposed ordinance designed to help protect the ozone layer could prompt businesses and industry to turn to solvents and cleaners that are unsafe in other ways.

“There are always technological alternatives,” said Kathleen Wolf, who said she has researched ozone-depleting substances. Some of the alternatives being discussed, however, she said, are flammable and could endanger employee safety, may be carcinogens, or could pollute water.

“We need to do it in an orderly way, so we don’t endanger people in other ways,” Wolf said of the effort to find alternatives to ozone-depleting compounds.


Wolf was one of about 10 people, including renowned ozone expert F. Sherwood Rowland, a UC Irvine professor, to testify during a 2 1/2-hour public hearing at Irvine City Hall.

Rowland endorsed the measure, but Wolf told council members: “I’m frightened to death that people will start using things that are different but also dangerous. There is no free lunch. We have to be careful about our trade-offs.”

It was the first public hearing for the proposed ordinance, which would be, it is believed, the most far-reaching in the nation in its restriction on the use of ozone-depleting compounds. Other cities have banned foam food containers made with chlorofluorocarbons, or CFCs, and the state of Vermont has banned automobile air conditioners that use CFCs beginning in 1993. Irvine’s ordinance, however, would address those areas as well as go after businesses that use ozone-depleting compounds to, for example, make or clean circuit boards.

The Irvine ordinance would severely restrict the use of CFCs and Halon, substances that research has shown deplete the earth’s ozone layer, which protects the planet from harmful ultraviolet radiation. It would affect electronics and other high-tech businesses, home insulation, the repair of automobile and building air conditioners, the use and sale of plastic foam dishes and cups, and even the testing of fire extinguishers in computer rooms.

No Action Taken

Representatives of about six businesses and industrial groups also spoke before the council, which did not take any action and continued the public hearing to July 18.

One speaker--David S. Shiffman, director of administration for Canon Business Machines in Costa Mesa, which would not be affected by the ordinance--warned Irvine council members that the costs of complying with the proposed law would drive businesses out of Irvine, leading to a loss of revenue and employment in the city.

The council also heard from representatives of other businesses, one of which was Western Digital. Its spokesman said the push to restrict CFCs is feasible and that Western Digital once used CFCs-laden solvents to make computer components such as printed circuit boards and integrated circuits but that it switched to a “water wash” five years ago.

It was Rowland’s pioneering research at UC Irvine in 1974 that established that the ozone layer was being depleted. In his presentation Thursday, Rowland explained that CFCs destroy the ozone layer, and that when that happens, harmful ultraviolet radiation can reach the earth. Researchers have linked ultraviolet radiation to skin cancer and immune system disorders. At the same time, CFCs also do not allow the earth’s heat to escape, thus creating a condition known as the greenhouse effect.

CFCs, Rowland told the council, have a lifetime of 75 to 110 years in the lower atmosphere, eventually traveling up to the stratosphere, where they burn off quickly.

Local ordinances restricting CFC use, he said, can be forerunners of more far-reaching laws.

What It Would Do

Irvine’s ordinance would:

- Bar the use of any ozone-depleting compound in manufacturing, production, cleansing, degreasing or sterilization (although the military and licensed health care facilities would be exempt).

- Prohibit the use of packaging materials such as containers for fast food that use CFCs as well as the sale of any foam products using CFCs.

- Prohibit the use of building insulation that contains or uses CFCs.

- Require the recovery and proper disposal of insulation material when it is removed from a building.

- Require anyone working on air conditioners--in vehicles or buildings--or on refrigeration units to use a machine that recovers and recycles the refrigerant, which contains CFCs.

- Prohibit anyone from selling coolant for use in refrigeration or air conditioning unless the buyer has a certificate showing he or she has a recycling system;

- Prohibit the release of Halon in the testing of fire extinguishing systems or in training without a permit;

- Create a position for an environmental program coordinator, who would work with businesses to help them comply with the ordinance (such a post would cost $300,000 for two years, according to a city report).

Irvine City Council aide Katherine Lyon said information about the proposed ordinance and reply cards were mailed several weeks ago to more than 5,000 businesses. The city received 238 responses, of which 11% said they use CFCs. Of those, 50% were supportive of the ordinance. Of those not affected, 80% said they favor the proposed law.

Effects Argued

But Wolf contended that Irvine’s ordinance would make it illegal for residents to use suede shoe cleaner, which contains methylchloroform, or brake cleaner. Many hospitals, which would be exempt, do not sterilize their own instruments, instead sending them out to businesses, which would not be exempt, she said.

She warned that there are “a number of entrepreneurs who are excited about this, who are marketing products (as alternatives to CFCs) and not always telling the truth. I think we must be very careful.”

After she made her remarks, she was immediately surrounded by business representatives who apparently took heart in her criticisms of the proposed ordinance.

Wolf said after the meeting that the ordinance is not necessary because the Montreal Protocol--an agreement among the CFC-producing nations around the world--will begin taking effect in July. That would reduce the amount of CFCs available, which would raise its cost and therefore prompt industry to find alternatives. The Montreal Protocol calls for a 50% reduction by the turn of the century, although it is believed that the agreement will be revised next year to call instead for a total ban by the end of the next decade.

It is important to proceed cautiously and to be certain that the industry does not substitute CFCs with something just as bad, Wolf argued.

Wolf is project manager of the Source Reduction Research Partnership, a venture between the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California and the Environmental Defense Fund, which is attempting to reduce the use of chlorinated solvents. She said she previously worked on the issue of CFCs for 13 years with the RAND Corp. and plans to set up a nonprofit consulting office to offer technical assistance to businesses and industries grappling with the CFC issue.

Shiffman of Canon said the proposed law has no provisions for businesses that use a small amount of CFCs and recycle their compounds. Further, he said, the July 1, 1990, implementation date allows insufficient time to come up with workable and affordable alternatives.