The LA County Board of Supervisors adopted two motions today taking further steps to improve our environmental protections. The first motion mandates that all new construction, building additions or major roof replacements in County unincorporated areas use “cool roof” materials. The second motion sets a four-month study in motion to assess the feasibility of banning the use of polystyrene products in county unincorporated areas.

Supervisor Sheila Kuehl, lead author of the motion, said, “These days, it is increasingly important that environmental leadership come from local and state governments. LA County is constantly moving ahead with new initiatives including today’s motions. Cool roofs are an innovative way to lower temperatures and reduce energy consumption. Polystyrene is not biodegradable and is a major contributor to litter in our rivers and ocean. These are smart, forward-looking steps that we must take to protect our environment for future generations.”

By 2050, Los Angeles County is expected to be much hotter than today, making the region even more vulnerable to the “urban heat island effect,” in which temperatures rise because of radiating heat from dark, non-reflective surfaces such as asphalt roofs and roads. In addition to increasing temperatures, the urban heat island effect jeopardizes public health by increasing heat-related injury and death, especially in low-income communities where there are fewer trees and less access to air conditioning. Cool roofs made of highly reflective materials absorb up to 65% less heat than conventional roofs and help reduce interior and ambient temperatures. Lower temperatures reduce smog formation and reduce energy consumption.

The second motion approved by the Board calls for a report on the feasibility of banning polystyrene, a material widely used in plastic straws, plastic cups, and clamshell takeout food containers. Polystyrene products are a major contributor to litter that ends up in local waterways. Styrene, a component of polystyrene, is not biodegradable and is known to cause cancer in lab animals. The motion asks for a report back to the Board in 120 days.

“Polystyrene products are piling up in our landfills and polluting our beaches,” said Supervisor Janice Hahn, co-author of the motion. “Better alternatives exist and cities across California, including Manhattan Beach and Hermosa Beach, have already adopted successful bans that have been embraced by the community and local businesses. We need to reexamine the impact polystyrene is having on our health and our environment and consider whether it is time to enact a ban in our unincorporated communities.”

Gary Gero, The County’s Chief Sustainability Officer, underscored the importance of both motions. “LA now joins with many cities and becomes the third county in the state to move to require new roofs to be cooler. This effort, along with the recognition that polystyrene poses serious environmental and health hazards that must be addressed, reflects the County’s growing willingness and leadership to take action to protect the communities we serve. These actions set important precedents for us to build upon as we draft the County Sustainability Plan.”

Supervisor Kuehl, the author of both motions, is a longtime champion for clean water, clean air, and open spaces. As a state senator, she chaired the Natural Resources and Water Committee and she now sits on the governing board of the Southern Coast Air Quality Management District.