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REGIONAL REPORT : Toxic Air Emissions Drop in Southland : Businesses: 50 million pounds of chemicals--some cancer-causing--were released in 1990, 10% less than in ’89.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Manufacturing firms in Southern California legally put about 50 million pounds of toxic compounds into the air in 1990, 10% less than a year earlier, according to reports filed by the companies.

The materials include chemicals that contribute to smog, deplete the Earth’s protective ozone layer and are suspected of causing cancer and reproductive harm.

In 1990, 110 manufacturers emitted at least 100,000 pounds each. Eighteen discharged more than 500,000 pounds, the company reports to the U. S. Environmental Protection Agency say.

The reports came from more than 1,100 businesses in Los Angeles, Orange, Ventura, San Diego, Riverside, San Bernardino and Imperial counties. Los Angeles and Orange counties, which ranked first and second in California in toxic air emissions, accounted for about 80% of the region’s total.

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The figures, compiled by The Times, show that large volumes of chemical waste continue to be vented into the air despite a steady tightening of pollution-control rules.

In addition, authorities say, the figures reflect a mere fraction of toxic discharges into the region’s skies because many big polluters are not required to file reports.

Moreover, the figures do not include vehicle tailpipe emissions, which create the lion’s share of some forms of pollution that fill the area’s skies.

Still, the 1990 figure of 50.4 million pounds was 10% less than 1989 and 18% below 1988.

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The reports were filed under a federal “community right to know” law that has given the public unprecedented access to data on the industrial use and disposal of toxic chemicals.

Passed in 1986 after the chemical disaster at a Union Carbide plant in Bhopal, India, the law requires manufacturers to provide the EPA with annual reports on their use and disposal of about 340 compounds.

Typically, environmental laws place direct controls on pollutants. This one aims to use community pressure and bad publicity to improve the environment. And business and environmental groups are nearly unanimous in saying the approach is paying off.

“My sense is that it’s been incredibly effective, even more so than regulatory programs, in prompting companies to undertake voluntary commitments to reduce emissions,” said Deborah A. Sheiman of the Natural Resources Defense Council, an environmental group.

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“That bit of legislation in Congress . . . opened a lot of companies’ eyes to what they were actually putting in the air,” said Al Skiles, a General Dynamics executive who chairs an environmental committee of the California Manufacturers Assn.

Among last year’s notable improvements:

* General Motors, whose Van Nuys plant’s 1989 emissions were 1.93 million pounds, the most in Southern California, reduced them to 606,485 pounds.

* Rohr Industries, whose aircraft component plants in Riverside and Chula Vista emitted nearly 2.6 million pounds in 1989, trimmed the figure to about 1.2 million pounds.

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* Caspian Inc., a San Diego chemical milling firm reporting 1.2 million pounds of emissions in 1987, reported 255 pounds for last year.

* The nation’s second-biggest air emitter--Minnesota Mining & Manufacturing Co., better known as 3M--cut discharges from its Camarillo plant in Ventura County from 573,200 pounds in 1988 to 272,154 pounds in 1990.

Some manufacturers have reduced emissions simply because of recession-caused production cutbacks.

Others have actively sought to reduce pollution as a way to cut the costs of buying chemicals and paying excess-emission fees to local air districts.

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For instance, Caspian switched from volatile chemical solvents to water-based compounds. Others have made such common-sense changes as using rags to clean equipment that used to be bathed or hosed down with solvents. This reduces chemical evaporation, the major source of toxic emissions.

“It can be simple things like that that contribute greatly to emission reductions,” said Robert Pease, of the South Coast Air Quality Management District’s air toxics branch.

Some reductions have resulted from regulations targeting compounds that form smog or deplete the ozone layer.

But another factor is the desire to stay out of the news.

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Daren Jorgensen of Jorgensen Environmental, a consulting firm in Colton, said five of his clients were unhappy at appearing last year on a newspaper’s list of 25 top polluters. The firms took action, Jorgensen said, and “there’s only one that’s going to be on that list this year.”

Still, the law’s exemptions allow many industrial emissions to go uncounted. The program covers “just the tip of the toxic iceberg,” complained Rep. Gerry Sikorski (D-Minn.), who wrote and now wants to broaden the law.

In testimony before Congress two years ago, the congressional Office of Technology Assessment said the inventory may capture as little as 5% of toxic releases by American industry.

Steve Newburgh-Rinn, chief of the public data branch for the EPA’s office of toxic substances, disputed that estimate. But he said: “I don’t think anybody can honestly say it’s 40%, it’s 60%, it’s 25%, it’s 90%. . . .”

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The law covers only manufacturers, letting entire polluting industries off the hook. For example, agriculture, oil and gas extraction, mining, chemical and fuel storage, industrial dry cleaning firms and government installations don’t have to file reports.

Electric utility plants, which do not report, put out nearly eight times more toxic mercury than all of those who do report, the Natural Resources Defense Council says.

Firms with fewer than 10 workers do not file. Reports are not required for listed chemicals unless their annual use exceeds 10,000 pounds. Hundreds of toxic chemicals simply are not listed.

The rules allow what critics call phantom reductions. Some firms avoid reporting by switching from one to several similar chemicals, taking care to use less than 10,000 pounds of each, according to Jorgensen and other experts. Others simply switch from listed to non-listed compounds.

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However, phantom increases also result from the rules.

For instance, Great Western Foam Products Corp. in Orange reported 1.6 million pounds of emissions in 1990, the most in Southern California. On paper, it showed a sixteenfold increase over the 1989 figure, 95,000 pounds.

In fact, the emissions barely increased. The company started using a listed chemical, a solvent called TCA, instead of a more expensive, unlisted compound called CFC-11. Both chemicals attack the Earth’s ozone shield, but experts say CFC-11 is worse. Thus Great Western arguably was harder on the environment when it was reporting lower emissions.

Some gaps also result from failure to report. It is commonly estimated that one-third of the companies that should report do not.

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Due to limited manpower, efforts to punish violators have been modest. Enforcement has been aimed exclusively at failure to report, not inaccuracy.

As of March, the EPA had identified 403 non-reporters and cited 209 of them nationwide. Two inspectors must police California, Nevada, Arizona and Hawaii. Sixty-one firms in these states, 48 in California, have been cited.

Sikorski and more than 100 congressional allies are sponsoring legislation to require non-manufacturing businesses and government installations to report. The bill also would add dozens of chemicals to the toxic inventory list.

But better data still would leave uncertainties about health risks.

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Some of the emissions are known to increase smog and damage the ozone shield. But immediate risks to people living near factories can not be calculated from emission figures alone, experts say. Many other factors--stack heights, wind patterns, the toxicity of specific chemicals--determine whether people are significantly exposed.

The chemicals emitted in the largest amounts are of low-to-moderate toxicity. They came into wide use because workers could use them without noticeable effects.

Some chemicals, however, are suspected of raising the risk of cancer or reproductive harm even in low concentrations.

Fifty million pounds is “a lot of material and it is cause for concern,” said Mark Saperstein, an environmental scientist with the Air Quality Management District. But “when you lump it all together, it’s a little difficult to say what it means.”

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Under a state law that Saperstein is helping to administer, nearly 400 Southern California firms have been ordered to gauge the possible effects of chemicals they emit on people near their plants. Those found to pose a significant hazard will be required to notify the neighbors.

Times researchers Dan Malcor and Janet Lundblad contributed to this story.

The County Picture

Following are county-by-county toxic air emissions, in pounds, for manufacturing firms in Southern California and for the region.

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COUNTY 1988 1989 1990 Los Angeles 39,449,037 34,583,793 29,883,829 Orange 10,657,437 8,911,860 10,276,190 San Diego 5,618,508 5,557,746 4,121,921 Riverside 2,294,145 3,044,788 2,447,801 San Bernardino 2,189,326 2,500,650 2,289,485 Ventura 1,333,013 1,132,909 860,047 Imperial 71,723 33,255 471,306 Southland Totals 61,613,189 55,765,001 50,350,579

SOURCE: Company reports to the U.S. and state environmental protection agencies

The Southland Report

Following were the top emitters of toxic air contaminants among Southern California manufacturing firms in 1990, according to reports filed by the companies with the U.S. and state environmental protection agencies under the federal “community right to know” law. The region includes Los Angeles, Orange, San Diego, Ventura, San Bernardino, Riverside and Imperial counties. RANK & COMPANY: 1. Great Western Foam Products Corp.

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CITY: Orange

PRINCIPAL BUSINESS: polyurethane foam

1990 TOXIC AIR EMISSIONS IN LBS.*: 1,600,520(+)

MAIN CHEMICALS: 1,1,1-trichloroethane(TCA)

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RANK & COMPANY: 2. Douglas Aircraft Co.

CITY: Long Beach

PRINCIPAL BUSINESS: aircraft production

1990 TOXIC AIR EMISSIONS IN LBS.*: 1,366,455(+)

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MAIN CHEMICALS: methylene chloride, TCA

RANK & COMPANY: 3. Unocal Chemicals and Minerals

CITY: Brea

PRINCIPAL BUSINESS: fertilizer

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1990 TOXIC AIR EMISSIONS IN LBS.*: 1,176,813(-)

MAIN CHEMICALS: ammonia

RANK & COMPANY: 4. Signet Armorlite

CITY: San Marcos

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PRINCIPAL BUSINESS: eyeglass lens manufacture

1990 TOXIC AIR EMISSIONS IN LBS.*: 1,171,338(-)

MAIN CHEMICALS: methylene chloride, freon 113, acetone

RANK & COMPANY: 5. Reynolds Metals Co.

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CITY: Torrance

PRINCIPAL BUSINESS: aluminum cans

1990 TOXIC AIR EMISSIONS IN LBS.*: 1,026,665(+)

MAIN CHEMICALS: glycol ethers, n-butyl alcohol, TCA

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RANK & COMPANY: 6. Hickory Springs of California

CITY: Commerce

PRINCIPAL BUSINESS: polyurethane foam

1990 TOXIC AIR EMISSIONS IN LBS.*: 1,015,200(+)

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MAIN CHEMICALS: methylene chloride, TCA

RANK & COMPANY: 7. Crain Industries

CITY: Compton

PRINCIPAL BUSINESS: polyurethane foam

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1990 TOXIC AIR EMISSIONS IN LBS.*: 951,775(-)

MAIN CHEMICALS: methylene chloride

RANK & COMPANY: 8. Chevron USA

CITY: El Segundo

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PRINCIPAL BUSINESS: petroleum products

1990 TOXIC AIR EMISSIONS IN LBS.*: 907,421(+)

MAIN CHEMICALS: ammonia, propylene

RANK & COMPANY: 9. E.R. Carpenter Co.

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CITY: Riverside

PRINCIPAL BUSINESS: polyurethane foam

1990 TOXIC AIR EMISSIONS IN LBS.*: 693,270(+)

MAIN CHEMICALS: methylene chloride, TCA

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RANK & COMPANY: 10. Rohr Industries Inc.

CITY: Riverside

PRINCIPAL BUSINESS: aircraft components

1990 TOXIC AIR EMISSIONS IN LBS.*: 629,254(-)

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MAIN CHEMICALS: methyl ethyl ketone, TCA

RANK & COMPANY: 11. Rohr Industries Inc.

CITY: Chula Vista

PRINCIPAL BUSINESS: aircraft components

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1990 TOXIC AIR EMISSIONS IN LBS.*: 616,985(-)

MAIN CHEMICALS: TCA, perchloroethylene

RANK & COMPANY: 12. General Motors

CITY: Van Nuys

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PRINCIPAL BUSINESS: auto manufacture

1990 TOXIC AIR EMISSIONS IN LBS.*: 606,485(-)

MAIN CHEMICALS: xylene, n-butyl alcohol

RANK & COMPANY: 13. Shell Oil Co.

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CITY: Carson

PRINCIPAL BUSINESS: petroleum products

1990 TOXIC AIR EMISSIONS IN LBS.*: 592,110(+)

MAIN CHEMICALS: ammonia, propylene, toluene

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RANK & COMPANY: 14. Northrop Aircraft Div. (east complex)

CITY: Hawthorne

PRINCIPAL BUSINESS: aircraft production

1990 TOXIC AIR EMISSIONS IN LBS.*: 590,328(+)

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MAIN CHEMICALS: TCA, perchloroethylene

RANK & COMPANY: 15. CMC Printed Bag Co.

CITY: Whittier

PRINCIPAL BUSINESS: plastic bags

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1990 TOXIC AIR EMISSIONS IN LBS.*: 578,500(+)

MAIN CHEMICALS: TCA

RANK & COMPANY: 16. General Dynamics, Space Systems Div.

CITY: San Diego

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PRINCIPAL BUSINESS: aerospace

1990 TOXIC AIR EMISSIONS IN LBS.*: 536,044(+)

MAIN CHEMICALS: TCA

RANK & COMPANY: 17. Unocal-Molycorp Inc.

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CITY: Mountain Pass

PRINCIPAL BUSINESS: minerals processing

1990 TOXIC AIR EMISSIONS IN LBS.*: 534,000(-)

MAIN CHEMICALS: chlorine, ammonia

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RANK & COMPANY: 18. Douglas Aircraft Co.

CITY: Torrance

PRINCIPAL BUSINESS: aircraft production

1990 TOXIC AIR EMISSIONS IN LBS.*: 528,070(+)

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MAIN CHEMICALS: TCA, methylene chloride

RANK & COMPANY: 19. Arco Products Co. (L.A. refinery)

CITY: Carson

PRINCIPAL BUSINESS: petroleum products

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1990 TOXIC AIR EMISSIONS IN LBS.*: 472,301(+)

MAIN CHEMICALS: ammonia, toluene

RANK & COMPANY: 20. Rockwell Intl. Rocketdyne Div.

CITY: Canoga Park

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PRINCIPAL BUSINESS: aerospace

1990 TOXIC AIR EMISSIONS IN LBS.*: 440,914(-)

MAIN CHEMICALS: TCA, freon 113

RANK & COMPANY: 21. Holly Sugar Corp.

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CITY: Brawley

PRINCIPAL BUSINESS: sugar production

1990 TOXIC AIR EMISSIONS IN LBS.*: 431,250(+)

MAIN CHEMICALS: ammonia

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RANK & COMPANY: 22. Aerochem

CITY: Orange

PRINCIPAL BUSINESS: chemical milling

1990 TOXIC AIR EMISSIONS IN LBS.*: 423,520(-)

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MAIN CHEMICALS: perchloroethylene

RANK & COMPANY: 23. Mobil Oil Corp. (Torrance refinery)

CITY: Torrance

PRINCIPAL BUSINESS: petroleum products

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1990 TOXIC AIR EMISSIONS IN LBS.*: 407,380(-)

MAIN CHEMICALS: ammonia, toluene

RANK & COMPANY: 24. McDonnell Douglas Space Systems Co.

CITY: Huntington Beach

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PRINCIPAL BUSINESS: aerospace

1990 TOXIC AIR EMISSIONS IN LBS.*: 392,705(+)

MAIN CHEMICALS: TCA

RANK & COMPANY: 25. BP Chemicals

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CITY: Hawthorne

PRINCIPAL BUSINESS: fiberglass paneling

1990 TOXIC AIR EMISSIONS IN LBS.*: 387,919(+)

MAIN CHEMICALS: styrene, acetone

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* (+) means 1990 emissions were higher than 1989. (-) means 1990 emissions were lower than 1989.


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