More Sonoma County businesses running clean

  • Machinist assistant Harley Thomas dries a precision machined component after cleaning it with an amended water rinse, and isopropyl alcohol, in the precision machine shop at Agilent Technologies, in Santa Rosa on Friday, February 14, 2014. The current process of cleaning components replaced the use of the toxic chemicals Freon and trichloroethylene. (Christopher Chung/ The Press Democrat)

Toxic chemical releases from Sonoma County industries have declined steadily for six consecutive years, confirming the county's reputation as a magnet for clean business.

Industrial pollution dropped 76 percent from 27,950 pounds in 2007 to 6,801 pounds in 2012, according to a federal government report.

Going back nearly a quarter century, local industries released 332,508 pounds of toxics in 1988, the year the Environmental Protection Agency began tracking chemical emissions.

The steep decline is driven by a mix of factors, including changes made by some companies to clean up their production processes, the closure of other operations or their move out of the county, and the North Bay's long bid to build and recruit a wider network of businesses with a light toxic footprint.

"I think we have a lot of good corporate citizens in terms of the environment," said Ben Stone, executive director of the Sonoma County Economic Development Board.

The EPA's latest report — called a Toxics Release Inventory — also documents declining industrial pollution in California and the nation, although agency officials said the annual survey does not assess the risk that chemical releases pose to the public.

It does not assess chemical use by agriculture, nor does it address other pressing issues, such as the interaction of various pollutants and the growing presence of pharmaceuticals and other consumer products in the environment.

Curtailing those releases and their effects on human and environmental health is a top priority among watchdogs, said Stephen Fuller-Rowell, co-founder of the Sonoma County Water Coalition

But, he acknowledged, "this is still a pretty nice, clean place to live" and that helps "boost the local economy."

Three Sonoma County facilities — the Coast Guard base at Two Rock, Asti Winery outside of Cloverdale and Clover-Stornetta Farms in Petaluma — together accounted for most of the release or disposal of 6,801 pounds of chemicals in 2012.

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