South Coast Air Quality Management District bullies small businesses in minority communities
"The foundation of rule making and enforcement needs to be on good, current and accepted science because our health and lives depend on it"
Photo: Flickr/Ben Amstutz
The South Coast Air Quality Management District’s flawed monitoring program recently cost a minority-owned business in Paramount $100,000 in lost wages; dozens of workers were let go
By SCOTT SMITHWe’ve all heard the stories of local polluters impacting the air we breathe, the ground we live on, and the water we drink. However, most businesses closely follow federal, state, and local regulations, so these stories are really the exception rather than the rule. Likewise, most regulating agencies tend to work collaboratively with business to keep the community safe. Sadly, some agencies are not only combative but are now impacting the local economy with the loss of business and jobs.
In the past few months, the South Coast Air Quality Management District (SCAQMD) decided to randomly adopt an emission limit 1,000 times lower than anywhere else in the world. The SCAQMD also changed its enforcement policy and began bullying companies with indefensible notices of violations.
The district’s heavy-handed tactics have also included calling in armed police officers, fire marshals, the California Environmental Protection Agency, CUPA, California Department of Toxic Substance Control, and the California Occupational Safety and Health Administration to force these small businesses to sign consent agreements.
While there may be dozens of accomplished Ph.D. scientists at the SCAQMD, it is absurd that after admitting numerous times that their air monitoring process is new and flawed, they persist in seeking enforcement actions. This flawed monitoring process is costing businesses hundreds of thousands of dollars each – even when the SCAQMD is wrong, because these companies are forced to waste money proving their innocence and the SCAQMD’s incompetence.
The SCAQMD has invented a problem and is now using any means – other than sound science and common sense – to support what amounts to a government-manufactured crisis, grounded in politics, as justification of its authority. This is hurting honest businesses, including minority companies in our Latino and African-American communities.
The SCAQMD’s flawed monitoring program recently cost a minority-owned business in Paramount $100,000 in lost wages; dozens of workers were let go. And why? The principal deputy district legal counsel for the SCAQMD eventually sent a letter admitting that the air monitoring was inconclusive and it is impossible to accurately attribute hexavalent chromium (chromium 6) to a particular source.
All that the workers in Paramount got in response to the $100,000 in lost wages and jobs was a letter from the SCAQMD admitting “the District is unable to apportion out the contribution not attributable to Anaplex…”
Hexavalent chromium is persistent in the environment and can be found in things such as cement or even some utility pole wood preservatives. It is a byproduct of things such as diesel exhaust, grinding, forging, and flame cutting of chrome-bearing alloys. There is concrete cutting road work near many of the monitoring points where peculiar chrome results are being measured. Minimizing these other possibilities when forcing compliance is irresponsible in the face of vast evidence of other sources.
The most jaw-dropping and confusing statements were made by the SCAQMD staff:
“AQMD isn’t using data from 1975. The California Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment used a 1975 study to set the inhalation risk for [chromium] 6. SCAQMD is using the latest risk assessment guidance from OEHHA (2015).”
While the statement is correct, it also is dishonest.
OEHHA put out a report in 2015, using a 1975 study to set inhalation risks for chrome 6. There are currently at least 2-3 newer studies that measure inhalation risks for chromium 6, which OEHHA is considering reviewing. At the same time, the SCAQMD, along with all their Ph.D. scientists, continues to ignore the recent studies, as it continues playing word games.
It is irresponsible of the SCAQMD to build and enforce rules around poor science and then hide behind, “OEHHA made me do it.”
I live in a community that the SCAQMD is monitoring. We need to know what is causing the chromium 6 and the safe levels are for being exposed to the chemical compounds. The foundation of rule making and enforcement needs to be on good, current and accepted science because our health and lives depend on it.
Policy based on unbiased scientific review of the full body of current research is the only responsible and intellectually honest way for the SCAQMD to maintain any credibility in the way it is handling this issue and how it impacts our minority-owned businesses, their employees, and our community.
Scott Smith serves as the Executive Director of the Gateway Chambers Alliance, a group of 10 local chambers of commerce from across the Gateway Region of Los Angeles County representing hundreds of small businesses and thousands of jobs.