Environmental and Health Groups Join Teamsters Against Polluting Project

Oakland, CA- The Center for Environmental Health (CEH), the Coalition for Clean Air, and the Association of Irritated Residents have joined the lawsuit filed by the Teamsters on December 29 against VWR, the city of Visalia and others, to hold the city and company accountable for meeting required environmental and safety rules relating to the planned construction of a 500,000 square foot distribution center in Visalia. The groups charge that the company and city are illegally proceeding with the massive project, which will create pollution that will impact the community. VWR, which is owned by the Chicago-based private equity firm Madison Dearborn, is a global laboratory supply company that provides researchers with a full range of lab equipment and materials, including hazardous chemicals.

This massive facility will have serious health and environmental impacts, and should not go forward without a comprehensive assessment of the risks,” said Christine Cordero of CEH. “California needs real green jobs from companies that can demonstrate they care about the long-term health of local communities.” The amended complaint was filed yesterday in Tulare Superior Court.

Expert testimony presented to the city by a former EPA Senior Scientist notes that, when completed, the VWR warehouse will generate up to 5,000 truck trips daily, spewing massive amounts of diesel pollution, greenhouse gasses, and other emissions in residential neighborhoods, creating significant harmful impacts on air quality, traffic and noise. The testimony recommended an Environmental Impact Review (EIR) to assess the impacts of the emissions and the potential impacts resulting from accidental releases of chemical hazards.

The San Joaquin Valley Unified Air Pollution Control District requires building development projects larger than 100,000 square feet to secure approvals for air emissions. But as noted in the original December 29 lawsuit, the company has not even applied for the required emission permits, and has not conducted an EIR. The plaintiffs allege that the VWR project violates California¹s clean air laws and the State’s Environmental Quality Act (CEQA).

The San Joaquin Valley already has some of the worst air in the country, due largely to our position as a diesel trucking corridor,” said Elizabeth Jonasson of the Coalition for Clean Air, which focuses much of its advocacy work in the Valley region. “We need smart planning that prevents air pollution, protects public health and provides clean, green jobs for our workers.

In October 2010, the County of Tulare Resource Management Agency sent a letter to the City of Visalia asking Visalia to conduct CEQA review for the project to mitigate its significant traffic and air quality impacts and also asked the City to explain the project’s failure to comply with Air District Rule 9510.  In November 2010, CalTrans wrote to the City asking for a traffic impact study since the VWR project would have significant traffic impacts on State Route 99. In response, the city claimed the 500,000 square foot facility was a “ministerial” project, akin to a homeowner building a new backyard deck, and thus could not be regulated. In fact, the city municipal code allows the city to impose conditions to protect public health and welfare from the impacts of any industrial facility.

The Center for Environmental Health (CEH) has a fifteen-year track record of protecting communities from the health impacts of toxic pollution and toxic health threats to children and families. CEH also works with major industries and leaders in green business to promote healthier alternatives to toxic products and practices. Last year, the San Francisco Business Times bestowed its annual “Green Champion” award to CEH for its work to improve health and the environment in the Bay Area and beyond. www.ceh.org

ASSOCIATION OF IRRITATED RESIDENTS (AIR) is an unincorporated association that advocates for air quality and environmental health in the San Joaquin Valley. Members reside throughout the San Joaquin Valley and provide comments and testimony to local and regional decisionmakers and enforces important measures to protect and improve San Joaquin Valley air quality.

With offices in Sacramento, Los Angeles and Fresno, the nonprofit Coalition for Clean Air (CCA) has worked to restore clean air to California since 1971. CCA is dedicated to reducing emissions and improving public health through advocacy, outreach and education. For more information, visit www.coalitionforcleanair.org