Mining operations pollute Area’s gravel pits linked to health hazardsBy Marianne Love , Staff WriterMining operations most likely contribute significantly to air pollution, possibly affecting the respiratory systems of an estimated 260,000 people living and working in the Irwindale area, according to a U.S. Environmental Protection Agency report to be released today.The report also finds that little is being done to monitor the mining industry’s impact on the environment.The 500-plus-page report, commissioned by Rep. Hilda Solis, D-El Monte, and Rep. Henry Waxman, D-Los Angeles, focuses on the areas in and around Azusa, Baldwin Park, El Monte and Irwindale, where there are 17 gravel pits.The two lawmakers wanted the federal agency to identify specific pollutants released in the air and water, provide data from previous studies, list air and water permit requirements and estimate the cumulative exposures to residents. “Some of the lead regulatory agencies haven’t done their job as best as they can in terms of monitoring (gravel pit operations) on a regular basis,’ Solis said Thursday. “I find it disturbing that other businesses and corporations are always monitored, and there’s a lot of accountability.’Azusa Mayor Cristina Madrid agreed, calling the lack of monitoring an eye opener.”The industry has gone below the radar screen,’ she said.Todd Spitler, a spokesman for Vulcan Materials, which owns 977 acres of gravel pits in the Irwindale area, said he has not received a copy of the EPA study, but he said his company exceeds the required monitoring standards.”We could be a model for the rest of the industry,’ he said, adding he was anxious to see what the EPA had to say.Azusa resident Linda Shehee suffers from asthma. She says her condition worsened in the last year when she moved back to the San Gabriel Valley.”This is a very serious issue long overdue for study,’ Shehee said.Solis hopes the report will attract attention and bring financial backing that can be used to collect data and also force the industry to monitor itself better.”You can’t deny that 35,000 people from our region suffer from asthma compared to communities where there are no gravel pits,’ said Solis, who has been honored for her work on environmental justice.The federal report indicates Irwindale-area mining operations produce fine particulate matter, ozone and high levels of toxic air pollutants.For years, residents have feared the dust and other air pollution may be linked to respiratory and cardiopulmonary problems.Ozone is a powerful respiratory irritant, which can cause shortness of breath, chest pains, wheezing and coughing, according to the American Lung Association.Fine particulate matter is created by blasting, digging, transportation and processing the gravel, the report stated. In addition, heavy machinery and trucks burn diesel fuel, emitting large amounts of toxic air pollutants.Irwindale officials estimate gravel trucks rack up more than 1 million trips a year hauling materials.More than 70 percent of the roads in California were built with gravel and sand from Irwindale pits, officials say.The EPA analysis proved to be a challenge for Solis and Waxman, who had to have experts and consultants read through raw data.Experts say the EPA study doesn’t identify all of the air pollutants in the report.The report also lacks information about how much air pollution mining operations generate or to what extent they contribute to the area’s air-quality problems. A lack of monitoring stations is to blame. The nearest monitor is in a canyon between Duarte and Azusa, more than a mile from the closest active gravel operation, according to the report.Some regulatory requirements do not apply to gravel mines, while others could but are ignored by regulatory agencies.Plus, many mining operations don’t hold air-pollution emission permits, making it difficult to determine if requirements are being followed or whether regulatory agencies are monitoring and enforcing compliance.Much of the same lack of information applies to a 500-plus- page water pollution report, which will also be released today.Digging near, and in some cases below, the water table level means leaks and spills could reach the groundwater.Many of the mining operations do not monitor the groundwater, which is heavily contaminated from other polluters, making it harder to identify pollution from mining, the report states.Irwindale city officials said they support Solis’ efforts and agree when it comes to public health and safety.”We monitor the current operations on a regular basis (and random basis) with regard to dust control,’ City Manager Steve Blancarte said.Blancarte said he thinks the city – which has about 1,400 residents – is doing an adequate job, but could always do better. “It’s a humongous task to undertake, and we welcome any help,’ he said.Solis will discuss the report at 10 a.m. today at Geddes Elementary School, 14600 Cavette Place in Baldwin Park.
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