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Mercury Emissions From California Crematory Halts Project

from the Santa Cruz Sentinel:

08/02/2012

by Shanna McCord

SANTA CRUZ – Cavity fillings essentially have stopped a proposed 40-unit apartment complex on Ocean Street Extension from moving forward.

The developer, longtime Santa Cruz resident Craig Rowell, said a health risk study shows emissions from cremations involving mercury tooth fillings could be a potential hazard for people living next to Santa Cruz Memorial crematory.

The study was based on “theoretical ambient mercury concentrations” produced from the combustion of dental amalgams, according to the report by URS Corp. of Oakland.

“I can’t see any way to go forward unless there’s an agreement from the crematory operator to change his methods,” Rowell said. “We see our property at this point as valueless.”

Rowell purchased the grassy 2.7-acre parcel next to Santa Cruz Memorial in 2006 for $1.65 million from Santa Cruz Memorial owner Randy Krassow with plans to pursue an apartment complex on the Ocean Street Extension property near Graham Hill Road.

Rowell and his partner Rick Moe were on their way to seeking a zoning change and amendment to the city’s general plan from the Santa Cruz Planning Department to build the complex when they were hit with community opposition that led to the health risk study.

The study was required after a public hearing in October 2010 in which several Ocean Street Extension residents raised concerns with the housing project, including traffic and parking as well as potential mercury emissions billowing from the cremation facility’s smokestacks.

Rowell and Moe hired URS Corp. to conduct the health risk study in January 2011. The year-and-a-half study, based on computer modeling, was completed in July.

Data for the study was provided by the Monterey Bay Unified Air Pollution Control District with estimated mercury “grams per body.”

Based on a body with a lot of fillings, the report estimated a level of mercury exposure 22 times what is acceptable by the air district.

District officials say it’s unclear how much mercury from crematory stacks is dispersed as an airborne contaminant into the environment.

There are no federal or state standards for mercury emissions, and actually testing mercury in the stacks would be “cost prohibitive,” according to the district’s Executive Director Richard Stedman.

“We’re using the worst case scenario to come up with exposure, and there’s definitely potential for exposure if they develop next to the facility,” Stedman said. “There’s nobody exposed to high levels currently. The farther away from the source, the lower the risk.”

Rowell and Moe sent a letter to Ocean Street Extension residents last week to alert them of the health risks pointed out in the report.

The developers also filed a lawsuit against Santa Cruz Memorial owner Randy Krassow, asking him to modify his business practices to correct the emission problems. They’ve also filed a complaint with the air board, asking the crematory’s permit not be renewed.

The health risk report cited a couple of ways the crematorium could cut emissions, such as removing fillings before cremation, installing filters on the smokestacks or relocating the crematorium.

Santa Cruz Planning Director Juliana Rebagliati said the apartment proposal is not dead. She said city planning officials will meet with the air district next week to determine how to deal with the potential impacts of possible mercury emissions.

“We’re taking it very seriously,” she said. “It’s a new area of consideration. We’re still proceeding with the project.”