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Beverly Hills Weekly
Beverly Hills, California
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February 17, 2000     Beverly Hills Weekly
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February 17, 2000
 

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city" The Unintended Consequences of Good Intentions By Ellen Stern Harris Sometimes government agencies take actions without anticipating possible adverse effects. Such a case was the requirement to add MTBE to gasoline to help reduce toxins in our air. The result has been leakage of MTBE into our aquifers, rendering water supplies undrinkable. The City of Santa Monica's wells have beenso afflicted, as have those of many communities across the country. Another example has yet to be widely appreciated. In implementing the Americans With Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA), consideration was given to the hearing impaired. During a fire, a siren could be wailing to notify people in a building to evacuate, but the deaf would not hear it. And so, a requirement for visual alarrns, in the form of flashing, high-intensity, xenon strobe lights, was adopted to supplement the use of sirens. What was not anticipated is that peo- ple who are photosensitive and may not even know it, were stricken with epilep- tic seizures when exposed to these spe- cial, pulsing lights. This often rendered them unconscious and unable to flee a tal hazards division told me that strobe lights have been routinely used as a diagnostic tool to precipitate seizures in ; ;What was not anticipated is that people who are photosensitive, and may not even know it, were stricken with epileptic seizures when exposed to these special, pulsing lights. fire. About three years ago, this was rec- ognized and the timingand synchroniza- tion of strobe lights was re-visited, hope- fully to lessen the likelihood of such seizures. About 1% of the population may be susceptible, many of them chil- dren. By way of background: Raymond R. Neutra, M.D., Ph.D., who heads the California Dept. of Health's environmen- patients suspected of epilepsy. He added, "I was told that some epileptics were triggered by driving down the French highways at sunset. These seizures were believed to be caused by the light 'blink- ing' as they went past trees planted by Napoleon I.o shade his troops." In 1996, California adopted new tim- ing and synchronization standards to reduce the adverse effects of these visual alarm systems. The newer models were recently installed in BHUSD bungalows. What is not known is how many of the old models are still in place. As there is no requirement for retrofitting the older models, they may continue to cause epileptic seizures. I've asked Beverly Hills fire chief, Clarence Martin, how many of the older models are still in use in our schools, as well as in other public buildings throughout the City. He says he doesn't know but is checking with the Dept. of Building and Safety. If you feel this should be high on Chief Martin's to-do list, you might let the City Council and members of the BHUSD Board know how you feel. The sooner we know what we have, the sooner we can get these hazardous alarms retrofitted or replaced. I Ellen Stern Harris is a long time resident of Beverly Hills and executive director of The Fund for The Environment. The Telephone Connection Serving Beverly Hills since 1988 Voice Mail Service Doctor's Service Local and Long Distance Phone Service "Follow Me" and Conference Call Service 310-789-79OO i February 17-23, 2000 = 9