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Proposed OEHHA Changes Could Dramatically Increase Number of Projects with Significant Health Risk Impacts

The Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment (“OEHHA”) has proposed sweeping changes to its Air Toxics Hot Spots Program Guidance Manual for the Preparation of Risk Assessments—more commonly known as Health Risk Assessments or “HRAs.”

The proposed revisions would include new, age-specific criteria for determining the risks of contracting cancer from exposure to air contaminants.

Under the current regulations, health risks are determined based on a hypothetical 70-year exposure to the contaminants, with the same risk assessment applicable regardless of age. The new regulations would require that risk models be calculated differently depending on the age of the person exposed, with young children having a significantly increased risk level when compared with current regulations.

Though the exact impact of these regulatory changes is uncertain, some estimate that HRA findings of cancer risks from a proposed project could increase by as much as 300 percent compared with the current regulations. In addition, the area over which cancer risks may spread could increase 2 to 3 times compared with current regulations.

These changes are likely to impose significant new requirements both on existing emissions sources and new projects. Critically, the changes could cause previously non-controversial projects to cross significance thresholds under CEQA solely based on a 6-month construction period. This, in turn, may require the preparation of more environmental impact reports (“EIRs”) and less reliance on shorter-form CEQA documents such as the mitigated negative declaration (“MNDs”).

The comment period for the new regulations ends August 4, 2014. Meyers Nave will continue to monitor the proposed regulations and their potential impacts on any projects requiring an HRA.