County Considers Toxic Waste Prosecution Unit
The Orange County Board of Supervisors said Tuesday it will consider setting up a special unit in the district attorney’s office to prosecute environmental crimes because of increasing violations of hazardous materials laws.
The board ordered the district attorney and the county administrative officer to draw up a proposal for the new division, along with cost estimates for investigators, prosecutors and support staff. Their report is due during the supervisors’ budget deliberations in August.
The action had been discussed before last Saturday’s fire at an Anaheim warehouse that stores pesticides and fertilizers forced the evacuation of at least 7,500 people.
Potential costs of the unit were not cited, but Supervisor Roger Stanton said a similar environmental crimes division in Los Angeles County had seven attorneys and six investigators.
Stanton said the Los Angeles unit had recouped $300,000 in fines, and noted that since last Jan. 1 a state law allowed courts to levy fines ranging from a minimum of $2,000 per violation to $50,000 per day, per count. The law also permits the court to order violators to pay for the cost of prosecution.
Stanton said there had been 13 emergency incidents involving hazardous waste in the county in 1982, 48 in 1983, 120 in 1984 and 85 through May of this year.
“Either the problem or the realization of it is increasing,” he said.
He said county prosecutors “pretty well have a battle plan set” to crack down on violators of hazardous waste laws, “but it’s a question of how many lieutenants or troops they need in the field.”