LA City Council ignores toxic fireworks issue as it sets to approve project
Like Wile E. Coyote roping himself to a perchlorate-powered rocket, the Los Angeles City Council is set to launch the city into unknown territory September 28.
That’s when the council will make an historic deal to approve the $1.2 billion Farmers Field project in downtown adjacent Staples Center.
The anticipated approval comes on the heels of a September 14 EnviroReporter.com exposé AEG’s Perchlorate Problem that showed that project applicant Anschutz Entertainment Group appeared to have not accounted for the toxic fireworks mainstay ingredient perchlorate in its $27 million environmental impact report, or EIR.
Perchlorate at minute levels has been shown to affect the thyroid and is especially dangerous to pregnant women and children under the age of 12 because it disrupts proper organ development. Southern California has multiple sites contaminated by perchlorate including the Santa Susana Field Laboratory above Simi Valley and the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena.
AEG vice president of communications Michael Roth pledged to answer to our e-mailed questions about the perchlorate and other inconsistencies in the EIR related to fireworks data. Those questions were:
Implicit in the FEIR/DEIR is the use of perchlorate in traditional fireworks at Farmers Field. While the amounts of the four heavy metals that are the coloring agents are listed for the fireworks and quantified, there is no such data regarding perchlorate and the amounts of it that will be used.
1. Is there any data in the FEIR/DEIR on the amount of perchlorate that is expected to be used on a per day and per year basis? Is there any data that analyzes any potential environmental and/or health impacts from said usage?
2. Two of the fireworks-related heavy metals listed in Appendix B, antimony and copper, have the same figure (number) for their respective “Peak Hourly Emissions” as they do for their “Annual Emissions.” Is this a mistake? If it is, what would the correct figures be?
3. Are the four heavy metals listed – copper, antimony, barium and strontium – the only heavy metals used as coloring agents in Farmers Field fireworks?
4. Farmers Field’s FEIR/DEIR has an impressive emphasis on the “green” credentials of the project. From compressed air propulsion to perchlorate-free fireworks with about a tenth the amount of barium used by traditional fireworks, there are ‘greener’ fireworks than the ones AEG is planning to use at Farmers Field. Why has AEG chosen to use traditional display fireworks instead of these new technologies?
Seven days after sending the questions to Roth, news broke that the company was up for sale. To date, there has been no reply.
The city-written EIR for AEG also claimed there were no mitigating options for fireworks use, therefore any such use of ‘low-emission’ fireworks would be optional and not required. EnviroReporter.com has found that there are commercially available fireworks that are perchlorate-free with a tenth of the heavy metal barium. Barium produces fireworks’ green color and is toxic by ingestion or inhalation.
That information didn’t give the city’s planning commission pause September 13 when it approved the EIR unanimously and passed it on to the city council. The commission didn’t apparently see the need for the usual health effects studies that come in EIRs when toxins like perchlorate are used in presumably high amounts year-round. Not addressing the fireworks issue in the EIR means that activists have 90 days to ask a court to make AEG and the city fix the EIR in accordance to the California Environmental Quality Act.
The issue doesn’t seem to ignite any concern at the city council level even when it could open the city and any future AEG owner to litigation over toxic clouds of gas in and out of the stadium. Five of the 15 city councilmembers contacted for comment on the perchlorate findings would not comment on the issue; the other ten elected officials did not respond at all to press inquiries.
The virtually-assured vote will codify the unlimited use of conventional fireworks in and on top of Farmers Field every day of the year from 10am until 11:30pm at the semi-enclosed stadium. Even though perchlorate is the primary ingredient in exploding fireworks for pyrotechnic effects, heavy metals are used to color the bursts.
Perchlorate, a rocket fuel oxidizer which has polluted numerous aerospace sites across the Southland, will find a home at new ‘green’ stadium in downtown Los Angeles by 2017. If neighborhood activists are right, land values will skyrocket and along with that will come tony condos costing millions. In fact, they’re already there and within a third of a mile from the future stadium.
Toxic smoke and burning debris fireworks can have a serious impact upon spectators at an entertainment event and not just fouling the air which, in downtown Los Angeles’ microclimate, can remain nearly windless on many warm nights.
Yet the impact of fireworks at Farmers Field has not been fully explored despite the gargantuan length of the EIR. AEG’s Roth seemed hesitant to even admit to how fireworks would be used in Farmers Field even though an AEG video released May 8 shows impressive blasts of pyrotechnics in a computer-generated conception of the future stadium. Indeed, the veteran PR man posited that the video was, perhaps, just the work of just an imaginative artist and shouldn’t be considered the final project design.
“That was an artist’s conception” Roth said in a telephone conversation September 11. “That was an artist’s conception for the video and I could not tell you if that is reflective of the final design plans because typically things for fireworks, while contemplated in the EIR, you know the positioning and the technology used may or may not be representative. Just like the football players on the field? I’m sure there are some people in the stands in all? We obviously haven’t built that yet so those people aren’t there.”
The perchlorate problem isn’t confined to the stadium and its EIR. The powdery white oxidizer has become so pervasive in California and across the country that it is even beginning to penetrate popular culture.
“Perchlorate” has been a character in two Toxie Awards, a satirical awards ceremony for toxic chemicals and pollutants. Admonishing critics to “lighten up” in one Perchlorate interview, the silver-clad siren with rocket boosters on then reminds viewers there are medications for thyroid disease. In another quick Q & A, the toxin asks the viewer rhetorically “What do you do if life hands you perchlorate?” and answers her own question with “Make perchlorate lemonade” before going on to exclaim how residents in Barstow having to line up for water free of the goo in 2011 learned important life lessons like learning how to stand in line for hours at a time in the hot Mojave Desert sun.
Not all environmentalists are laughing, including the Natural Resources and Defense Council’s senior attorney for the group’s Santa Monica office, David Pettit.
“I wasn’t aware of the perchlorate problem until I saw your article last week,” said Pettit in an email September 20. “Our view is that perchlorate should not be used in fireworks because of the risks it presents to human health and I will make this known to the City Council.”
AEG vice president of communications Michael Roth told EnviroReporter.com September 11 and 12 that answers about the perchlorate and heavy metals would be forthcoming. They never were. Roth offered to get the perchlorate data but asked that nothing be written about it until he did.
“I’m asking if it’s possible if we hold off another day or two, the reason being as you know we have a big hearing tomorrow and almost everybody that’s been involved in the EIR has been preparing for this,” Roth said in a September 12 conversation with this reporter. “It’s the last and final hearing – or we hope – before the planning commission and it’s obviously a big milestone of a day and they literally, you know, first I’ve got to track down the right person who has to track down the right person. So that’s a bit of an issue for us. Can you hold your story off a few days and key it towards the city council hearing?”
When told that attempting to get this information had been an ongoing effort not the least of which was reviewing the entire EIR, and that AEG would have ample opportunity to comment in a future piece (an offer repeated September 24), Roth appeared somewhat mollified.
“You know about our carbon neutrality part of it?” Roth asked before the call ended. “By the way, the NRDC has – we developed this plan with the NRDC who completely supports our project.”
But NRDC support no longer seems complete with Pettit’s criticism of the use of perchlorate at Farmers Field.
That, however, shouldn’t be much of an impediment to passage by the Los Angeles City Council this Friday despite the surprise announcement that AEG would be put up for sale. That caused considerable fireworks at city hall as evidenced Mayor Villaraigosa’s petulant answers to Los Angeles Times and Los Angeles Daily News reporters after the news broke that Phillip Anschutz was selling the huge company just days before the crucial city council vote.
“Whoever buys that team is going to have to live with the contract we negotiated, and I am very proud of that contract,” Villaraigosa said. “So from my vantage point, I feel very comfortable with the deal that we have, and whoever owns AEG is going to have to live by that deal.”
There’s the rub. The lack of information about the extensive use of fireworks with their attendant toxins is part of the deal. According to the California Environmental Quality Act, CEQA, that is a failing that could land the city and the new owner of AEG in court costing taxpayers time and money in the quest to bring the National Football League back to Los Angeles.
According to Joe Lyou, head of the Los Angeles-based Coalition for Clean Air, despite the fast track that Farmers Field has been afforded by legislation in Sacramento regarding CEQA, the company is not entirely off the hook on the Farmers Field project. “This is a special case because the law that exempted them from certain requirements under CEQA and said you have to go directly to a court of appeals [if a legal challenge is made to the project’s EIR],” Lyou told EnviroReporter.com September 26. “But normally you would go to superior court to challenge an environmental impact report under the California Environmental Quality Act. The judges will look at it – ‘first review.’ Normally the appellate court looks at the court’s decision made by the lower court but in this case they’ll have to consider the evidence in the record.”
That record includes both articles this reporter has written on AEG and Farmers Field to date.
“So the administrative record includes all of the comments, all the responses to comments that went into making the decision on the part of the city council and, in this case, the judges will look at whether there was an accurate description of the environmental impacts, whether there were significant environmental impacts that were admitted or not admitted [and] potential environmental effects that were not considered,” said Lyou. “Once they determine something is a significant environmental impact, they are obligated to consider all feasible mitigation measures to reduce or eliminate that impact so that it is no longer significant.”
Whether that ever happens is to be seen. If the council and mayor don’t douse the fuse of toxic fireworks at Farmers Field before it’s built, the city and it citizens could have just about the same amount of luck as Wile E. Coyote strapped to a rocket fueled by perchlorate.