Air District Staff Opposes SOS Plan to Burn Wastes

Times Staff Writer

A Santa Clarita Valley defense contractor's request to dispose of hazardous wastes by burning them in the desert in northeastern Los Angeles County will be opposed by officials of the South Coast Air Quality Management District, a district official said Tuesday.

Jim Birakos, deputy executive officer for the district, said staff members on Thursday will urge a district hearing board to deny Space Ordnance System's application for an open burning variance that would enable the firm to destroy about 1,500 drums of toxic and explosive wastes that are being stored illegally at the firm's two manufacturing plants in the Santa Clarita Valley.

Space Ordnance for months has been under orders to remove the wastes from its Mint Canyon and Sand Canyon plants.

Health Department Support

The defense contractor's request to incinerate the material at a site 25 miles east of Lancaster is supported by the Los Angeles County Department of Health Services, which cited SOS for illegally storing the wastes.

But, Birakos said, district staff members believe that the SOS proposal does not meet the requirements for an open-burning variance because other means of disposal are available.

Birakos said district officials have not pinpointed specific risks involved in burning the SOS wastes. He said, however, that health concerns are "the reason for outlawing open burning from the outset. . . . It's more than just aesthetics."

The hearing board will convene at 9:30 a.m. Thursday at district headquarters at 9150 Flair Drive in El Monte, but district officials said the SOS case will probably not come up before 11 a.m.

SOS officials contend that burning the wastes would not cause a significant air-pollution hazard and have said that they know of no alternative place to dispose of explosive wastes.

"If anybody can step forward and let us know of a facility that would receive and dispose of this waste, I can't tell you how pleased and delighted we would be," said Sheila Klein, a spokeswoman for TransTechnology Corp. of Sherman Oaks, parent company of SOS.

320-Acre Site Leased

The proposed burn site is a 320-acre parcel that SOS leased from the Ben M. Heller Trust on Dec. 15. SOS also has an option to buy the property, and company officials say they hope to build a permanent explosive waste incinerator on the site if they can get approvals from the air quality management district and other agencies.

The 1,500 drums have been accumulating at SOS's Mint Canyon and Sand Canyon plants since late in 1983, when the air quality district and county fire and health agencies stopped SOS from burning the material at the plants.

SOS officials say the wastes for the most part are not highly toxic but are flammable and explosive. Much of the material is wipes, swabs, gloves and aprons contaminated by toxic metals and solvents and immersed in water to reduce the risk of fire.

If SOS gets a variance from the district, it will still need a temporary emergency permit from the Environmental Protection Agency in order to burn the wastes. The federal agency has not yet acted on the permit request.

SOS manufactures pilot ejection systems, flares and other pyrotechnic devices for the military and aerospace firms. The firm and three of its executives were accused of criminal hazardous waste violations following a raid at its plants last March. In addition, the Los Angeles County Regional Planning Commission is considering whether to revoke the zoning permits that allow the firm to operate its plants last March.

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