In a decision opposed by many restaurant owners, the board agreed Wednesday to require emission controls on open-grill restaurant charbroilers such as those in larger dining establishments like Black Angus and Applebee's that cook high volumes of steaks, hamburgers and other beef.
Clean air agencies elsewhere are watching the rule the first of its kind in the nation by a regional air district. Bay Area air regulators say the controls will reduce public exposure to fine soot particles, which can cause asthmaand bronchitis problems, heart attacks and strokes, and stunted lung development in children.
"I like to eat at some of these restaurants with charbroilers, but the fine particles they produce is a health concern," said Mark Ross, a Martinez city councilman who chairs the Bay Area Air Quality Management Board.
But the rule will be expensive, costing restaurants some $30,000 or more to install scrubbers and filters to comply, plus more money to operate them, the California Restaurant Association complained.
"This rule is not cost-effective," Johnnise Foster Downs, the restaurant association's director of local government affairs, told the nine-county air board in its meeting in San Francisco. "Why don't they go after the bigger sources of particulates first, like diesel trucks and vehicles?"
Air district engineers say commercial charbroilers emit 6.9 tons a day of fine soot particles, and another 1.1 tons a day of smog-forming gases.
Most Bay Area restaurants would be exempt from the rule because their grill size or beef use falls below a threshold in the rule aimed at regulating only the highest-polluting restaurants, officials said.
Beef was singled out because its higher fat content produces more fine particles when the juices flare up on a hot grill.
Steakhouses or other restaurants with open, slotted charbroiler grills heated from below would be regulated if they cook 800 pounds of beef a week, and the grill is at least 10 square feet in size. This is the part of the rule that is unique, according to Jack Broadbent, the air district executive officer.
Fast-food restaurants with chain-driven charbroilers that heat hamburgers from above and below on a conveyer belt would require controls if they cook 400 pounds a week, according to the rule. Chain-driven charbroilers already are regulated by pollution districts in the Los Angeles, San Joaquin Valley and Ventura air basins.
About 200 Bay Area restaurants with
under-fired charbroilers, including Black Angus and Applebee's would be affected by the rule on Jan 1, 2013, air district engineers said.
About 450 restaurants with chain-driven charbroilers, including Burger King and Carl's Jr., would require filters by Jan. 1, 2009. McDonald's is exempt because it cooks its hamburgers on large griddles.
To avoid the steep cost of new filters, Vic Stewart's steakhouse in Walnut Creek may switch to cooking steaks in an ovenlike broiler drawer with flames above the meat, said Tyler Dwyer, the head chef.
"Thirty-five thousand dollars for a filter is painful," Dwyer said Wednesday.
Dwyer said he's not happy about the new rule. However, he said the taste of steaks will be as good if they're cooked in the broiler drawers. "We're looking into our options," he said.
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