Residents in Belmont Heights in Long Beach are pleading with City Council members to stop the expansion of a nearby mortuary which wants to add a crematorium, prompting concerns over mercury emissions. Hetty Chang reports from Long Beach for the NBC4 News at 5 p.m. on March 19, 2013.
Many of the residents who live near Newport and Redondo avenues in the quaint Long Beach community of Belmont Heights moved there because, according to them, it's a pleasant neighborhood.
"It was affordable, there are businesses to walk to, there are great parks," said Joey Vanoni, who has lived on Newport Avenue for 15 years.
But the mood there is changing after a new neighbor, a funeral center, moved in last October.
"I've been here since '98," Vanoni said. "I didn't buy here with the intention of having a crematorium down the street."
Belmont Heights Funeral Center has plans to expand its business operations, by offering cremation services onsite. To do that, it will need to install an incinerator, which has many of the neighbors pleading with the City Council.
Council members on Tuesday approved a 9-month freeze on new mortuaries, funeral homes and crematoriums to take effect immediately. The move shortens a previously approved year-long ban.
"That business has the right to exist in that location. It's not going away. It wouldn't be fair to take something away from them," said Councilman Gary DeLong, who represents District 3. "So what we are saying is, looking forward, the next time a funeral home wants to open in Long Beach, what is the most appropriate location for them to establish their business?"
Belmont Heights Funeral Center, according to DeLong, has all the proper permits to operate its business, and its location is zoned for funeral services, including crematoriums.
That does not do much to ease the concerns of residents like Will Snipes, whose dining room window would face the proposed crematorium area.
"It's right beside my driveway, 2 feet from where I park my car," Snipes said.
"I see into their business."
The center's owner, Latasha Company, said on Monday, she is just trying to keep up with increased demand of families wanting the option to cremate their loved ones onsite. She believes her neighbors' concerns are being fueled by fear.
"This is a mortuary, that's what you expect to see, dead bodies and caskets," Company said. "But it's a problem for a lot of people. If I had a crematorium here and we were cremating now, you wouldn't know it."
In addition to increased traffic and already scarce parking in the area, some neighbors expressed concerns about mercury emissions.
"I think you need to look at long term effects of these emissions that are being leaked from dental work that individuals had in their earlier years of life," said Dr. Jesse Valencia, who operates a rehabilitation center next door to the funeral center.
The Environmental Protection Agency estimates crematoriums emit 320 pounds of mercury per year. The common comparison is, it is a small amount considering coal-fired power plants and similar facilities emit 100 tons of mercury every year.