Toxic Waste Cost in State Could Hit $40 Billion

Times Staff Writer

Toxic chemicals in California will cost $40 billion to manage over the next decade unless state government and industry accelerate the use of new ways to manage hazardous waste that will cut long-term liability and cleanup costs, a state Economic Development Commission study has concluded.

To be formally released today by Lt. Gov. Leo T. McCarthy, the eight-month study proposes a program to encourage the recycling, neutralization or destruction of hazardous waste through the use of alternative treatment technologies.

Such proposals have long been discussed in business and government circles. But the commission’s findings for the first time detail the cost of inaction.

McCarthy, who chairs the commission, said in an interview that he was surprised at the magnitude of those costs.


Bigger Than Anticipated

“This is the first time we’ve totaled the tab on toxic waste contamination in California,” the San Francisco Democrat said. “I knew the cost would be bigger than anything publicly announced to date. But the costs to the economy are even far greater than I anticipated.”

Included in the $40-billion figure is $11 billion in private and governmental cleanup costs, $17 billion in costs to fund and comply with toxic laws and regulations, and $13 billion in medical costs resulting from cancers caused by toxic chemicals.

In addition, based on a national study undertaken for the congressional Office of Technology Assessment by two British experts, the commission estimated that 2,500 Californians die of cancer each year because of exposure to toxic chemicals.


Not included in those figures are the unknown costs of toxic lawsuits.

“The whole point of this study is to urge that we move dramatically toward environmentally safe treatment technologies,” McCarthy said.

Democrats Fault Governor

Gov. George Deukmejian has called for an extensive toxic contamination cleanup program this year. But some Democrats and environmentalists have faulted the Republican governor for failing to place enough emphasis on encouraging the development of alternative treatment technologies.


Last year, for example, the governor vetoed a bill that would have provided tax incentives for small businesses to recycle or treat their toxic wastes. The bill has been reintroduced this year.

Among the commission’s proposals is a waiver of the taxes on the land disposal of hazardous waste by companies that substantially reduce the volume of their wastes. Such fees now run as high as $66 a ton, the commission said.

The commission also proposed that the state itself accept direct liability for the relatively low-hazard residue from treated hazardous waste. This, the commission said, would encourage waste generators to turn to alternative treatment methods. Currently, there is no incentive for companies to treat their wastes because they are held equally liable to lawsuits over leaking hazardous dump leaks as those firms that do not treat their wastes.