The Los Angeles Fire Department (LAFD) doesn’t just fight fires; it inspects gas stations, chemical factories, laboratories and other facilities that have hazardous materials around.
At least, it’s supposed to.
Last week, the California Environmental Protection Agency (CalEPA) cited the department for 19 “deficiencies” that included failing to properly inspect hundreds of facilities. The agency conducts a review every three years, the last one coming in July 2014. The last two evaluations have found the department’s performance to be “unsatisfactory.”
“Their program has fallen apart,” CalEPA’s Jim Bohon told the Los Angeles Times. “They are failing in environmental management in a very gross way.”
All businesses in the city that handle hazardous materials must submit information regularly to the California Environmental Reporting System (CERS) through the fire department. CalEPA found a bit of a bottleneck there.
The department “is not accepting CERS submittals within a timely manner,” the report said. “Less than 400 of nearly 7,000 submittals have been accepted in CERS.” Why? “At least one inspector indicates that inspection staff has not been instructed or trained to perform these duties.”
CalEPA found the department doesn’t track violation information because, until recently, it didn’t know its 3-year-old Envision database had that function. During the last CalEPA evaluation in 2011, the department was told to develop and use an Excel spreadsheet to track the violations until Envision came online. That didn’t happen.
The department inspected just 22 of 207 Aboveground Petroleum Storage tank facilities (each holding at least 10,000 gallons) at least once during the past three years. It did better on underground storage tanks (UST), inspecting 66% in fiscal year 2012-13. CalEPA still considers that unacceptable, although it’s better than the 48% chalked up two years earlier.
When the department does find a UST facility out of compliance it doesn’t require it to fix the problem, even during inspections made for the purpose of checking on compliance. “Our file review indicates that facilities have been operating out of compliance for multiple years,” the report said.
“UST inspectors in many cases are not reviewing annual monitoring certifications, secondary containment testing reports, or other testing and leak detection records” before handing out permits to facilities not in compliance.
The department is not “ensuring that inspectors receive health and safety training.”
It is hard to say when the inspection process will get any better at LAFD. The report noted that the department has trouble retaining inspection staff. During the short evaluation period, the department lost two of its three senior inspectors.