Don’t Experiment on Carpinteria

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I am a physician and a resident of Carpinteria. I met with the director of the Santa Barbara County Planning Department, Lisa Plowman, with questions on how we have arrived at the current state of air pollution and the uptick of respiratory illnesses in Carpinteria Valley.

For example, why did the County Board of Supervisors ignore an assessment from an outside consulting firm, the Woods Group, stating that new cannabis grows would significantly impact air quality and needed an environmental impact report. That assessment was made just on the basis of the odors and chemicals emitted by the cannabis itself.

Numerous environmental issues have become increasingly apparent, but the Board of Supervisors has yet to require EIRs for cannabis production or processing. Sitting Supervisor Das Williams was the architect and driving force behind our woeful Cannabis Ordinance, and he has also stymied any meaningful remedies to the crisis he and his ordinance has created.

So, in the county that banned plastic straws, chemicals intended to reduce odors from cannabis production are being pumped into the air by the growers 24 hours a day, 7 days a week by the 50-gallon drum. Previously these chemicals were principally used on land fill sites, far away from homes, schools, and businesses. Now their use is required on cannabis production sites in Carpinteria.

That is troubling for two reasons:  (1) Carpinteria now smells so bad it requires industrial odor abatement previously reserved for garbage dumps, and (2) though these compounds are untested for long-term human exposure as vapors, the cannabis industry is deemed more important than human health in Carpinteria Valley.

These chemicals are permitted by our Air Pollution Control Board — run by Williams’s allies and appointees — because they are not listed on the State of California list of Toxic Air Contaminants. If we have learned anything from the vaping crisis of recent months, it is that otherwise innocuous substances can be lethal when vaporized and inhaled.

Mark Byers, the supplier of the most common vapor system in use in Carpinteria, called our valley “Ground Zero” for use of these systems in a community setting. The only safety data he presented was of four-hour exposure tests of rats in a closed box. That’s like saying, well, you smoked one cigarette and you didn’t die or get cancer, so cigarettes must be safe. Without consideration of the daily and chronic exposure to the vaporized chemicals being used, and no studies of long-term safety, how can this be allowed? Since no such evaluations have been done, why are these being allowed and even promoted?

Non-toxic substances can be toxic if vaporized and inhaled. Personally, I don’t want to be “Ground Zero” for any new industrial exposure.

Even if the environmental-impact-report exemption can be justified for an individual project, there is simply too much cannabis in the 1st District.

Every time another pot grow commences operations, the air quality in my neighborhood deteriorates. Every municipal district in the county, including the cities of Carpinteria, Goleta, and Solvang, has beseeched the Board of Supervisors to address this, but they have not — with Williams leading the opposition, stalwartly championing his patrons, the cannabis growers.

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