Lawmakers ask for fire-ring records

Assemblyman Allan Mansoor (R-Costa Mesa) sent air-quality regulators a letter Wednesday requesting public records related to an ongoing study that shows increases in pollution near beach fire rings.

The letter was also signed by state Sen. Mimi Walters (R-Irvine) and Assemblymen Travis Allen (R-Huntington Beach) and Curt Hagman (R-Chino Hills).

All four legislators have spoken against a ban on wood-burning beach fires up for consideration by the South Coast Air Quality Management District, which would effectively snuff out what some have called an integral Southern California tradition in Orange and Los Angeles counties.

Allen has also sponsored a non-binding resolution in support of the tradition, which is making its way through the Legislature.

Some of the biggest outcry over the possible ban has come from Allen's Huntington Beach constituents.

But some, including the city of Newport Beach and residents living near fire rings, have said that wood smoke poses a respiratory health risk.

Preliminary results of the AQMD study were released last month and found higher levels of certain types of particulate matter in the air near beaches with fire pits.

"We have been contacted by respected experts in scientific analysis and air pollution health effects research who question the conclusions of the [staff reports related to fire rings]," the letter says. "We believe that the qualifications of the authors of these reports, as well as the raw data, methodology and types of equipment used in preparing these reports, should be made available to the public for peer review and analysis."

Allowing review of that information, the letter says, "will help ensure a fair and transparent process."

AQMD spokesman Sam Atwood said Wednesday evening that he wasn't aware of the request, but that "we'll be very happy to share" the information the lawmakers asked for.

The letter asks that specific pieces of information be released. They include:

The names and qualifications of AQMD staff members or consultants who worked on the staff reports and the study.

All "memos, notes and any other information" used to prepare the staff reports.

A list of the equipment used in the study, as well as proper certifications for that equipment.

Any other relevant information.

"We're extremely proud of the qualifications of our staff," Atwood said, adding that at least two staff members directly involved with the study hold scientific PhDs, and that tests were specifically designed for the fire rings situation using "state of the art" instruments and monitoring protocols. "We're very confident in the test results."

This isn't the first time the district's qualifications to decide the fire rings' fate has been scrutinized.

A critic of the agency questioned the educational background of board member Clark E. Parker, who will likely vote on the matter in July. At the district board meeting Friday, staff will recommend that the board postpone deciding on the issue until a special meeting on July 12.

Two AQMD public hearings about the fire rings, including one in Newport Beach, are set for later this month.

According to a staff presentation at a May public meeting in Huntington Beach, staff and district board members will continue to evaluate options other than an outright ban, including the implementation of a "buffer zone" between the fire rings and the nearest homes — which could allay some of the concerns of Corona del Mar residents without negatively affecting beaches that don't have people living close by.

The report also says the board could opt to increase the distance between fire pits, institute "joint enforcement programs" to stop people from burning things that shouldn't be burned or implement "No burn days" when the weather would make burning especially hazardous.

District staff members have suggested installing propane fire pits instead of wood-burning ones since the issue was first discussed; however, Newport Beach officials have said that option could prove unfeasible..

Twitter: @jillcowan

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