Solaro explains asbestos stance
The asbestos dust issue has been one of the more contentious items on the El Dorado County Board of Supervisors’ agenda in recent months. And Lake Tahoe’s two representatives on the board, Fifth District Supervisor Dave Solaro and the Fourth District’s Ray Nutting, have found themselves walking a fine line on the prickly issue.
“Personally, I have spent more time, energy and resources on this issue than on any other since I’ve been on the board,” said Solaro, who represents South Lake Tahoe and portions of the lake’s west shore. “I was involved in town hall meetings, public hearings and many other forms of discussion before this vote came up. It’s a tough one.”
The vote in question was the agenda item last month in which the board was asked to lower the acceptable levels of asbestos in test samples from 5 percent per sample to 1 percent. The issue arose because the California Air Resources Board and the Environmental Protection Agency have found that airborne asbestos dust is a carcinogen associated with mesothelioma, an inoperable cancer of the membranes lining the lungs and chest. Tiny fibers within the asbestos dust – both of the common chrysotile and the rare tremolite varieties – are regarded by CARB as possible cancer-causing agents. Naturally occurring asbestos is commonly found in serpentine rock formations, which are prevalent throughout Northern California – and especially on El Dorado County’s west slope.
The county’s two operating rock quarries mine and crush serpentine rock to make road bed and landscaping material. Serpentine – and thus asbestos – can also be disturbed by homeowners who are involved in construction projects on their property. The resulting dust which is kicked up by vehicles and machinery is considered toxic, according to CARB. Many El Dorado County residents have expressed concerns over public health.
The board voted 3-2 not to modify the asbestos ordinance. Solaro, Nutting and Second District Supervisor Mark Nielsen voted in the majority. As a result, Solaro and Nutting have taken some heat for their decision.
“I think it’s a very important issue,” said Nutting, whose district extends to Meyers and Tahoe Paradise. “But the science is just not conclusive. And I think it’s not right that the state send their staff here to tell us to adopt one set of standards, when our elected state officials are unwilling to do the same. Quite honestly, we don’t know who’s in charge down there.”
One southern California-based geologist, who visited the communities of Latrobe, Shingle Springs and El Dorado Hills recently, likened the health risks in certain portions of El Dorado County to living on a toxic waste dump. Dr. Mark Germine, who is also the Chief of Medical Staff at Patton Hospital in Loma Linda, Calif., considers El Dorado County’s asbestos dust situation as a major health risk.
“But there were conflicting reports,” said Solaro, who said that he was prepared to vote either way when the debate began at the Board of Supervisors meeting last month. “There were experts on both sides of this issue, and no real convincing scientific evidence to support lowering the limit (to 1 percent). If I see some of that evidence, I’ll vote to change it.”
Solaro said that he approached the decision the way that he approached similar tough cases in his previous job, as South Lake Tahoe’s Chief of Police.
“It’s like going into the courtroom, where you have two psychiatrists – one for the defense, and one for the prosecution,” he said. “When they disagree completely, who do you go with?
“I found it telling that the state was asking us to adopt an asbestos dust limit that they were not willing to adopt themselves.”
The statewide limit on asbestos dust samples is 5 percent.
And indeed, some residents near the quarries in question see the issue as much ado about nothing.
“The state admits that they don’t know the real risk,” said Larry Weitzman, an El Dorado Hills resident who has been quite outspoken on the issue. “They lump all forms of asbestos as equally dangerous. But study after study has shown that only tremolite asbestos is a health hazard. And there are no cancer-causing forms of tremolite asbestos in El Dorado County.”
Dr. Wayne Berman, who prepared a commissioned report for the county in April, found that there were no tremolite fibers to be found anywhere in the county in CARB test samples.
Others disagree, including Terry Trent, a former Shingle Springs resident who contends that his father died of lung cancer which was contracted due to inhaling tremolite dust during the construction of his house. And then there is CARB itself, which considers all asbestos dust as potentially hazardous, and has reprimanded El Dorado County for failing to lower the limit to 1 percent.
The supervisors, such as Solaro, are caught in the middle.
“I’m open on this issue, and beholden to no one,” Solaro said. “On a major decision such as this, I say show me some clear evidence. I just want people to understand that I really do care.”
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