California Gov. Jerry Brown issued an executive order on Oct. 21 allowing EPA officials to help with the initial removal of hazardous waste that poses an imminent threat to public health and safety following major wildfires this month in the state. The order allows qualified professionals at the federal agency to assist state and local officials in immediately removing visible hazardous debris such as batteries, flammable liquids, asbestos siding, paint, and pipe insulation from burned homes.
Initial removal of these hazards will help to protect public health and the environment, and it lets residents and cleanup crews more safely enter properties and continue long-term recovery efforts.
Brown earlier declared a state of emergency for the counties of Solano, Napa, Sonoma, Yuba, Butte, Lake, Mendocino, Nevada, and Orange because of the fires and also issued an executive order to cut red tape and help streamline recovery efforts. Because of a major disaster declaration to support the state and local response to the fires and federal direct aid for residents of Napa, Sonoma, Butte, Lake, Mendocino, Yuba, Orange, and Nevada counties, workers in those counties who have lost jobs or had work hours substantially reduced as a result of the fires are also eligible for federal Disaster Unemployment Assistance benefits.
The wildfires destroyed more than 6,000 homes and other structures, “creating extraordinary amounts of hazardous debris,” his order says. It says local health officers of Butte, Lake, Mendocino, Napa, Nevada, Sonoma, and Yuba Counties have proclaimed local health emergencies as a result of the debris, and the debris “poses an imminent threat to public health and safety” because it is “filled with dangerous toxins including heavy metals such as arsenic, cadmium, copper, lead, and lethal asbestos and must be removed cautiously and expeditiously.”