Emissions from the Lehigh Southwest Cement Plant do not appear to pose a significant health risk to local residents based on evidence collected thus far, a joint committee of Los Altos and Los Altos Hills council members said in a statement issued Friday.
“However, to make sure, the ad hoc alliance will hire the services of an independent expert in the field to review all available data and to render an expert opinion,” the statement said.
The announcement comes two months after the made up of Los Altos Hills Town Councilman Gary Waldeck, Los Altos Mayor Ron Packard, and his fellow Councilman David Casas, to study whether Lehigh’s operations pose a threat to surrounding residents.
The goal, council members said, was to provide an objective and independent analysis of evidence, and share as much information as possible with the public. In February the group established the online South Bay Quarry Library of more than 300 documents related to Lehigh, so that residents could examine the documents themselves.
Last month from the Bay Area Air Quality Management District and the California Regional Water Quality Control Board to get answers to their questions as to what and how much the plant and quarry is emitting and discharging, and whether the cities need to be concerned.
Waldeck said in an interview on Thursday that, based on the data provided by the agencies, it appears that the company’s operations are emitting toxins “100 to 300 times below the trigger level” of EPA standards used to identify a toxic contamination concern.
One issue raised repeatedly by citizen groups that oppose Lehigh is a distrust of data reported by Lehigh to government agencies. Although Lehigh must hire independent consultants approved by the state of California, some activists have said they doubt the information, because it is paid for by the company.
From the beginning of the committee’s creation, council members said they would hire an independent expert to investigate the data. Waldeck said they will choose someone with no ties to Lehigh.
The committee is creating a proposal to put out for bids; Waldeck said the contract may be awarded in 30-45 days.
Waldeck commented that officials from regulatory agencies are physically at the Lehigh plant weekly and sometimes daily to monitor data being collected, and that Lehigh would risk being shut down if it was found anything was being altered.
“It doesn’t make economic sense for them to muck with the numbers,” he said.
The update is one of a series that the committee plans, but there is a narrow charter for its work, Waldeck said, and it will wrap up once there is a finding.
Should an independent expert uncover any concerns with toxins, he said, “our group will insist that our county governmental authorities act quickly to rectify the problem. On the other hand, if Lehigh has operated within the bounds of safety guidelines, the efforts of this ad hoc alliance will become unnecessary and will disband.”
The committee plans to host a public forum in May or June with different regulatory agencies to educate residents on how the agencies operate, and to answer questions, according to the statement.