Downey Will Drop Lawsuit Over County Pesticide Lab


The City Council and county officials have agreed to a compromise that will allow a controversial pesticide laboratory and warehouse to operate in the city.

A months-long deadlock was broken Tuesday night when the council was assured that chemical fumigations would take place at the facility only in emergencies. In exchange, the city will drop a Superior Court lawsuit it filed against the county last December.

Fumigations could be required because nearly five tons of poisonous squirrel bait, which is to be stored at the facility, could become infested with insects, county officials said.

City officials have opposed fumigations because small amounts of poisonous gas would be vented into the air afterward. The county has maintained that the fumigations are harmless and that less gas is released into the air than would be during a residential fumigation.

The council members were not entirely happy with the agreement.

"I would like to see that there is no fumigation whatsoever, but tonight was a major breakthrough," Councilman Roy L. Paul said.

Four council members directed City Atty. Peter M. Thorson to draft a resolution to consummate the agreement. The resolution should come before the council for final approval next month. The fifth councilman, Mayor Randall R. Barb, did not attend Tuesday's meeting. County officials also must approve the agreement.

The 26,900-square-foot laboratory and warehouse are being built on a 1.68-acre parcel of county land near the southwest corner of Imperial Highway and Garfield Avenue. The office of the county Agricultural Commissioner/Department of Weights is scheduled to move there in several weeks from an aging facility in Pico Rivera.

The laboratory will be used to test agricultural products, such as fruits and vegetables, that are brought into the county, to make sure they do not contain excessive amounts of pesticide residue, among other things.

The warehouse will be used to store equipment, such as traps for fruit flies. The county also plans to use about 5,000 square feet of the warehouse to store thousands of pounds of pesticides, including herbicides and ground squirrel poison.

City and county officials locked horns last summer after construction had begun.

Downey officials argued that the facility is being built too close to residential neighborhoods and the Rancho Los Amigos Medical Center. They said a fire could send plumes of poisonous smoke throughout the heavily populated area. They also complained about the planned fumigations.

County officials maintained the facility is safe. The environmental impact report on the project mentioned some potential problems, including the possibility of spills at the site, but concluded that the new facility will have adequate safety features.

The county in October agreed to reduce the number and quantity of pesticides stored at the facility, but refused to budge on the fumigation issue. Last December, Downey filed a lawsuit to block operation of the facility.

At its Tuesday meeting, the council again asked that no fumigations take place. The city had offered to pay up to $12,000 in improvements to the air-conditioning system at the warehouse to reduce or eliminate the need for fumigations. If the temperature is kept in the low-50s, insect eggs will not hatch, Thorson said.

An aide for county Supervisor Pete Schabarum said the county will accept Downey's offer to pay for part of the air-conditioning improvements but it will not give up its right to fumigate. Schabarum aide Tom Hageman assured council members that fumigations will be limited to emergencies, such as if the air-conditioning system were to break down.

"In the event that there was a failure . . . (the county) would have the option to do something," Hageman said. "The likelihood of that happening is negligible."

Under the agreement, the county will store nine pesticides--more than 10,000 pounds and 85 gallons.

The county could store more chemicals in larger amounts for "good cause" after giving the city two week's notice.

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