Haulers of Toxic Waste Probed After Spot Checks

Times Staff Writer

Two hazardous-waste hauling companies are under investigation by the Los Angeles County district attorney's office for possible violations of state health and safety laws after random road inspections were conducted last week in Carson.

Trucks owned by the two companies, whose names the will not be released until a full investigation is completed, were inspected by the Los Angeles County Toxic Waste Strike Force in the first of what officials say will be a long-term crackdown on illegal hazardous-waste trucking practices in the harbor area and throughout Los Angeles county.

One of the trucks stopped in Carson was found to be leaking material suspected to be hazardous waste, said Deputy District Atty. Robert B. Werner. The other hauler is suspected of improperly recording what type of waste it was transporting and failing to carry state-required shipment records.

Could Face Court

If investigations confirm the suspected violations, the hauling companies and the industries that generated the waste could face legal action and state fines. Werner said the investigations will be completed in about 10 days.

"These are spot checks like you would do for drunk drivers," said Barry Groveman, deputy district attorney and head of the strike force. "You catch a couple people each time and once in a while you find someone that shouldn't be on the road at all."

The strike force, which also includes officials from the state and county health departments and the California Highway Patrol, stopped about half a dozen trucks that carried hazardous waste during its Carson street inspections, which were conducted at weight scales on the northbound San Diego Freeway and along Alameda Street below the freeway.

The inspections last week came after a trial run about a month ago in Castaic, where strike force officials found several violations, but none as serious as the suspected violations found in Carson.

Likely Spot

"The harbor area is a likely spot for future investigations," Groveman said. "It is a logical place to be looking for these violations because it is a heavy industry area where we believe there is a lot of transportation of hazardous waste."

Officials say they expect to conduct such street inspections as often as twice a week on freeways and other roads throughout Los Angeles County, including East Los Angeles, Burbank, South El Monte and the Antelope Valley. They say that such inspections are necessary both to find violations and to deter them.

Strike force officials say they suspect widespread violations of the state's strict hazardous-waste transportation laws.

"With the closing of several landfills, there is a much greater reliance on the transportation of hazardous waste on the freeways and roadways," Groveman said. "And we're dealing with what is essentially an honor system at a time when there are great incentives to be dishonest.

Very Profitable

"It is very cost-effective for these haulers to be dishonest, and there has been limited enforcement up until now."

State laws require hazardous-waste haulers to keep detailed records of exactly where waste is generated, who collects it and where it is dumped. This "cradle-to-grave" record system is intended to ensure that no wastes are disposed of illegally.

"If our system works right, we should be able to trace every bit of hazardous waste that's developed and disposed of, but there's a big gap there," Werner said.

With knowledge of the number of hazardous-waste-generating industries and the level at which they operate, "we know there's a heck of a lot more hazardous waste out there than there is being accounted for," Werner said.

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