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Indybay FeatureRelated Categories: California | Central Valley | Santa Cruz Indymedia | Environment & Forest Defense
Groups Urge Air District to Protect Los Angeles From Fracking Pollution
LOS ANGELES— On November 22, a coalition of health and environmental organizations called on the South Coast Air Quality Management District to better protect Los Angeles and Orange County residents from air pollution caused by fracking and other dangerous oil and gas extraction methods.
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In a letter to the air district (see PDF), the five groups say current rules fall far short of adequately monitoring and protecting the public from toxic air pollutants used hundreds of times in recent months at oil and gas wells in L.A. and Orange County. Oil companies have also used trade secret claims more than two thousand times to keep the use of certain chemicals hidden from public disclosure.
“We’re breathing air contaminated by dangerous chemicals, but the air district seems more bent on helping the oil industry than protecting public health,” said Hollin Kretzmann, an attorney with the Center for Biological Diversity. “We really need Gov. Brown to place a moratorium on fracking and other toxic techniques. But as long as oil companies are allowed to spew pollutants into our air, the air district has to work much harder to track that pollution and protect our lungs.”
The groups are urging the district to establish its own air-testing program for fracking pollutants, improve the transparency and usability of its pollution-reporting website and stop allowing the oil industry to conceal chemical use under trade secret claims. The letter is signed by the Center for Biological Diversity, Physicians for Social Responsibility – Los Angeles, Communities for a Better Environment, Baldwin Hills Oil Watch, and Citizens Coalition for a Safe Community.
In January or February 2014, the air district’s Stationary Source Committee will consider whether recently adopted rules that apply to chemical reporting should be revised. In June the district began requiring oil and gas operators to report some of the chemicals were used in fracking and other unconventional extraction methods. Some chemicals, however, can be kept secret.
Those reports show that dozens of harmful chemicals designated as “air toxics” were used hundreds of times at L.A.-area oil and gas wells in the first few months of reporting. Methanol, known to cause a number of harmful health effects, including damage to skin and the respiratory system, was used more than 300 times in the first six months of reporting. Other commonly used air toxic chemicals include crystalline silica, hydrochloric and hydrofluoric acid, xylene and ethyl benzene.
Yet the district’s current rules do not measure what portion of those chemicals is being emitted into the air, and some chemical identities are not disclosed at all under claims of trade secrets.
“An air-quality rule that does not require disclosure and monitoring of the chemicals that communities may be exposed to during oil extraction is clearly inadequate to protect health,” said Angela Johnson Meszaros, general counsel at Physicians for Social Responsibility-Los Angeles. “Without disclosure and monitoring, the district cannot possibility know that the public is safe. What we do know is that thousands of tons of toxic chemicals are being used in these processes. The district really needs to have a common sense rule that discloses and monitors the use of those chemicals so we can be sure that workers and communities are not being exposed to toxic emissions.”
Air toxic emissions from oil and gas activity in Southern California has come under increased criticism after reports that Environmental Protection Agency inspectors fell ill after physically inspecting an oil operation in L.A.’s University Park neighborhood.
Because of that incident, the groups also call on the air District to keep its promise to hold public meetings in the communities most affected by oil and gas pollution. So far the District only plans one public meeting, which will be held in January or February 2014.
The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 625,000 members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.