Waste Producer's Compliance Claim Disputed

Times Staff Writer

Special Devices Inc., which is battling to save the zoning permits that cover its explosives manufacturing complex near Canyon Country, has told Los Angeles County planners that it always has strictly complied with health and safety rules. But the statement is at odds with information from another county agency.

In a 10-page letter to the county's Regional Planning Commission, Special Devices said it would be wrong to revoke the permits that it and four tenants, including Space Ordnance Systems, need to manufacture explosives on a 300-acre site along Placerita Canyon Road east of Newhall. Special Devices owns the land.

Assertions 'Not True'

In the June 10 letter, Special Devices says that, although alleged hazardous-waste violations by SOS have put the permits in jeopardy, "it is uncontroverted" that Special Devices and its other tenants "have at all times acted in strict compliance with all applicable health, safety and land-use regulations."

The assertion contradicted a statement by the county Department of Public Works, which told the commission last November that waste violations had also been found at Special Devices.

A public works official contacted this week by The Times said that, although Special Devices, a small producer of waste, apparently never caused lasting environmental harm, it is "not true" that the firm always has complied with waste disposal rules.

"There's a history of minor problems out there," said Carl Sjoberg, chief industrial-waste engineering inspector for the agency.

Department of Public Works records show that in June, 1980, Special Devices was issued a notice of violation for discharging waste water directly onto the ground without a permit. Tests showed that the water contained traces of two solvents, trichloroethylene and acetone.

Then, in March, 1984, according to the records, an inspection revealed oil leakage from manufacturing equipment, and stains on the ground where three deteriorated waste drums had been stored. The company later had the waste hauled away, Sjoberg said.

Thomas F. Treinen, president of Special Devices, said Thursday that he was "totally unaware" that the 1980 water discharge contained chemical traces. Treinen said he believes the test data "was never submitted to us" by county officials. County files do not indicate whether the data was sent to Special Devices.

'No Intent to Deceive'

Treinen said of his company's statement in the letter:

"We're obviously trying to fight for our existence here and maybe somebody got a little bit carried away with their words. . . . There's no intent here to deceive anybody, I can tell you that."

As a landlord of SOS, Special Devices has been caught in the legal whirlwind that followed raids last year by state and county officials at two SOS plants.

Officials said the March, 1984, raids uncovered hazardous-waste storage and disposal violations at the Sand Canyon plant, which is on land leased from Special Devices, and at the SOS Mint Canyon plant nearly 20 miles away, on land leased from Garrett Corp. Based on evidence gathered in the raids, county prosecutors in August charged SOS and three of its executives with criminal violations of hazardous-waste laws. That case is still pending.

The county's Regional Planning Commission last year also began considering whether to revoke the zoning permits that cover the SOS plants. But, since SOS leases both sites, the permits actually are held by the landlords.

In January, the commission took a preliminary vote to revoke the permits, but has repeatedly postponed a final decision to give SOS more time to resolve its hazardous-waste problems--including disposal of about 2,000 drums of illegally stored explosive waste and cleanup of contaminated soil and ground water at both the Sand Canyon and Mint Canyon sites. A vote is scheduled July 1.

In its June 10 letter, Special Devices, which has about 120 employees, said it had hired a consulting firm to help it monitor environmental compliance by its tenants.

Improper Uses 'Inconceivable'

"It is absolutely clear that SDI has both the ability and motivation to ensure that the present use of its property can coexist with the community," the letter said.

In view of close government scrutiny and the proposed self-monitoring plan, "it is virtually inconceivable that improper uses of the land could go unchecked in the future," the letter says.

But in the letter, Special Devices also inadvertently raised an issue it had sought to dispel.

The letter said that the company in May had tested water samples from runoff ditches and streams around the plant and found no significant levels of chlorinated hydrocarbons, a chemical group that includes some common industrial solvents.

According to the letter, the highest measurement of hydrocarbon contamination was 37.7 parts per million of runoff, which the letter said is equivalent to .0377 parts per billion, an almost immeasurable amount.

Math Was Wrong

But the company's math was wrong--37.7 parts per million actually is equivalent to 37,700 parts per billion, which would indicate some pollution. (In making the conversion, the company had divided the original number by 1,000 instead of multiplying it by 1,000, which is the correct way to convert parts per million to parts per billion.)

Treinen said Thursday that he recognized the mistake a few days after the letter was submitted. "I made a big mess here," he said.

He said the company would conduct more tests to verify the highest reading and determine its source.

Treinen said the runoff crosses a bank that is sprayed with weedkiller to meet fire safety requirements. He speculated that pesticide residues might account for the elevated hydrocarbon reading.

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