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Supervisors rewrite asbestos ordinance, delay decision

PLACERVILLE- The question remains, what will be done about the airborne asbestos issue?

The El Dorado County Board of Supervisors decided Tuesday to postpone a vote concerning the Naturally Occurring Asbestos and Dust Protection Ordinance until Jan. 4.

The board approved a motion by First District Supervisor Sam Bradley to amend the ordinance to match state standards for asbestos test sampling.



The original draft would have reduced asbestos test sampling from 5 to 1 percent in El Dorado County. The state level is 5 percent.

Community and board members engaged in a lengthy and somewhat heated discussion.




“What is being proposed today has not had any input from the mining industry,” said Art Marinaccio, a land-use consultant representing Sierra Rock, which is adjacent to the Weber Creek Quarry. “It’s absolutely counterproductive.”

Naturally occurring asbestos is commonly found in serpentine rock formations, which are prevalent on El Dorado County’s west slope. Sierra Rock, one of the county’s two operating rock quarries, mines and crushes serpentine rock to make road bed and landscaping material.

Marinaccio believes the board’s Sept. 28 vote against the first draft, was the right decision. He wants the state to take the lead on the issue.

Melissa Vargas, who has a degree in soil and water science from University of California, Davis, disagreed with Marinaccio. After the meeting she said the adoption of the ordinance would be “a good thing.”

“The mining industry has been essentially allowed to do whatever they have wanted to do for a long time,” Vargas said. “I live right next door to a mine that is trying to reopen. How am I supposed to be able to sell my house now with two Proposition 65 notices?”

Proposition 65 notices are distributed to areas when high levels of hazardous substances trigger ambient air monitors.

Vargas is in charge of the Citizens for Protection of Health, Environment, and Quality of Life in El Dorado County. Despite the change in the ordinance Tuesday, Vargas said the group will continue to support the reduction of asbestos sampling down to 1 percent.

Terry Trent, a UC Davis biologist and lifelong county resident who contends that his father died of lung cancer contracted by inhaling tremolite dust during the construction of his house, said the ordinance is a good and necessary first step.

“I think you should leave the door open,” Trent said. “Even in the 40 to 50 years of studying this, we have barely touched the tip of the iceberg.”

“We don’t have the slightest idea what we’re going to do,” admitted Board Chairman J. Mark Nielsen.

Nielsen said he wants to wait for a recommendation from members of the local Surveyors, Architects, Geologists and Engineer’s group before voting.

“The value of the SAGE review is immense,” Nielsen added.

Due to the holidays, the SAGE review will present its ideas to the board Jan. 25. Although the board’s decision is scheduled to be made three weeks earlier, the ordinance can be amended.

“The public’s comments should be given equal importance to the SAGE review,” Vargas said.

Larry Weitzman, a columnist for The Mountain Democrat, was against the ordinance.

“Passing this ordinance would be jumping the gun. Chrysotile is not an offensive fiber,” said Weitzman. “I want the science to be correct.”

Vargas has also taken matters into her own hands.

“I’ve gone out into the field and there is tremolite,” she said.

Trent contends, “Tremolite is the issue around the world right now.”

Tiny fibers within the asbestos dust – both of the common chrysotile and the rare tremolite variety – are regarded by the California Air Resources Board as possible cancer-causing agents.

The Environmental Protection Agency says exposure to asbestos dust is a known health hazard because ingestion into the lungs can cause cancer and respiratory diseases.


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