El Dorado County officials have postponed adopting new rules meant to reduce the effect of naturally occurring asbestos, citing concerns about unintended consequences of the proposed regulations.
The El Dorado County Board of Supervisors, as directors of the Air Quality Management District, responded to requests by industry representatives and residents to delay action until July 19. Speakers at Tuesday's hearing sought clarification of proposed rules governing construction dust and measures for handling soils that might contain potentially cancer-causing asbestos.
"We see the need for the rules, and we're not objecting at all," said Becky Wood, environmental manager for Teichert Aggregates. "There are a few things we need to work on for clarity."
Alice Howard of Placerville said some of her questions could be answered with definitions of terms.
The proposed rules would strengthen local dust-control measures that county officials say already are the most stringent in the state.
Marcella McTaggart, air pollution control officer, said the proposed rules would extend to small projects, such as swimming pools, which might require excavation of as little as 20 cubic yards of soil.
The rules would prohibit plumes of dust produced by construction activities from exceeding 25 feet or from crossing project boundaries.
They also would require testing of excavated soils for asbestos, posting asbestos warning signs and cleaning up soil tracked by equipment from a project site onto public paved roads.
McTaggart said air district staff members held workshops with industry and environmental groups and made changes in response to their comments.
On the recommendation of members of SAGE - Surveyors, Architects, Geologists and Engineers - buffer zones, in which the rules would apply, were reduced from a half-mile to lands within a quarter-mile of areas expected or found to contain naturally occurring asbestos.
The half-mile buffer would have affected 38,798 parcels, said Carolyn Craig, air quality district engineer, whereas a quarter-mile buffer would reduce the number to 23,215.
The proposed rules also include an exemption for unpaved roads that aren't part of construction or construction-related activities. The exemption, recommended by the county Department of Transportation, would be allowed through 2009 or until a specific rule for unpaved roads is adopted.
Liz Diamond, interim transportation director, said the county operates about 100 miles of dirt roads. Although the exemption was added, she said, "2009 will be here before you know it. There will be an impact to the road fund if we have to do something with those roads."
Wood of Teichert Aggregates said the proposed measures would re-quire considerable use of water to prevent dust.
"The county does have some existing water issues," she said.
Adding more water trucks also would increase vehicle emissions en route to and at construction sites, Wood said. "We're balancing one air toxin with another air toxin," she said.
Diamond agreed, saying, "As we add a water truck for each piece of equipment, we are increasing our emissions." She said the Transportation Department might have to reduce construction to stay within its limits on emissions.
Supervisor Jack Sweeney noted that staff reports call for "clean material" to be used to stabilize sites following construction.
"Clean material" in the construction industry, he said, is washed aggregate. "I think what you want is soil free of asbestos," Sweeney said.
Contractors working in the county already have to deal with stringent regulations, which he referred to as the "El Dorado factor."
Although those measures are appropriate, he said, "It is also appropriate to protect people's property rights so they are not being forced to spend money for things that are inexplicable."
Jon Morgan, county environmental management director, said comments during the hearing spotlighted some new issues. Although Morgan recommended postponing action on the rules to allow staff members to prepare responses, he said questions likely will continue to arise.
"We've got to cut it off at some point," he said.
Supervisor Rusty Dupray supported the postponement, but he said, "I fully intend to adopt something on July 19."
Avoiding a dust-up
A proposed El Dorado County Air Quality Management District rule to handle construction dust and reduce the hazards from naturally occurring asbestos:
* Applies to earth work and construction projects involving more than 20 cubic yards of soil and within a quarter-mile of areas expected or found to contain naturally occurring asbestos.
* Prohibits construction-generated dust plumes that exceed 25 feet or cross the project boundary.
* Requires documentation for excavated soils disposed of on-site.
* Requires testing and documentation for excavated soils disposed of off-site.
* Requires asbestos warning signs at the project entry point.
Source: El Dorado County Air Quality Management District
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