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Bakeries, Tires Targeted In L.A. Battle Against Smog

Controversial efforts affect consumer conveniences

AIR pollution authorities in California have found a new villain in the war on smog - bread and blueberry muffins. In the never-ending quest to clean up the nation's dirtiest skies, authorities have placed new limits on emissions from large bakeries in the Los Angeles area, to the chagrin of folks who live downwind of the establishments.

The rule is the latest in an expansion of the battle against smog in California beyond freeways and factories to shops and homes and the conveniences of everyday living.

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In recent months, authorities have adopted emission controls on gas-powered lawn mowers, chain saws, and leaf blowers. Regulations exist governing the fumes from hair sprays, floor polish, barbecue lighter fluids, and underarm deodorants.

Several other unlikely pollution sources are targeted for controls in 1991: gas water heaters and nonradial tires, which, as they wear out, emit particulates into the air.

As California's efforts intensify, many of the rules are pushing the battle against air pollution into frontiers never before explored. Some manufacturers hope they never are again.

The move into these unconventional areas is being driven both by the depth of the smog problem in California, particularly Los Angeles, and the limits of how much can be squeezed from conventional sources.

Many of the biggest contributors to pollution - cars, refineries, industrial plants - are already tightly regulated, though even tougher emission standards are being put into effect all the time.

``There are not a lot of large, obvious uncontrolled sources'' left, says Bill Sessa, a staffer with California's Air Resource Board (ARB). ``We are at a point where everything that puts pollution in the air will have to be regulated if we are to meet federal health standards.''

The moves can add up to considerable savings. The South Coast Air Quality Management District (AQMD), the agency overseeing air quality in the four-county Los Angeles area, calculates that the 24 large commercial bakeries affected by its new rule spew out 4.1 tons of organic compounds a day - the equivalent of a medium-size petroleum refinery. They hope to reduce these emissions by 83 percent.

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The culprit in the bakeries' case is ethyl alcohol, a smog-producing compound formed when bread is leavened. The pollutant is then emitted as part of the aroma.

To meet the strictures, bakers will have to install new controls on ovens, which will reduce the pollution but, inevitably, some of the sublime scent as well.

When the ARB, a state regulatory agency, recently set new exhaust limits on lawn mowers, hedge trimmers, and other home and garden equipment, it estimated that many of the power tools produce 50 times more pollution per horsepower than a typical truck.

Nearly 40 tons of particulate matter is added to the air in Los Angeles each day as a result of tire wear. Because they deteriorate more quickly, bias-ply, or nonradial tires, contribute a significant amount. AQMD officials will consider a rule this summer that would ban the sale of nonradial tires.

``We have 13 million people here,'' says Larry Berg, a member of the AQMD board. ``When 13 million people do anything, it impacts the environment.''

Not everyone appreciates the new initiatives. While local bakers haven't expressed too much opposition to the rules affecting them, the barbecue industry has been less congenial.

It contends the nation's only rule tightly restricting the use of smog-causing lighter fluid and pre-soaked charcoal briquettes unfairly limits people's freedom to cook outdoors, an integral part of southern California culture. The industry has filed suit to block the measure.

Angry, too, is the portable power tool industry. Manufacturers argue the regulations recently adopted by the state ARB could double the price of chain saws and other products in the future - affecting industries beyond their own.

``There won't be a timber industry in California come 1999 if these rules remain,'' says Donald Purcell, president of the Portable Power Equipment Manufacturers Association.

In 1990, the air quality in Los Angeles was the best in 40 years of record keeping. Authorities attribute much of the improvement to favorable weather. But they also credit antismog programs.

They will no doubt use this to buttress their case when new rules come up. In time of recession, though, businesses will be countering with arguments of their own.

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