In an about-face, environmentalists now are the strongest supporters of a bill that would allow Southern California automobile shredders to dump marginally hazardous waste into landfills intended for household garbage.
The measure originally was drafted to aid the automobile shredding industry, which now would like the bill scuttled for the year.
The author, Sen. Marian Bergeson (R-Newport Beach), said she has been resisting industry pressure to either weaken environmental safeguards that conservationists added to the measure or shelve it.
With more than 30,000 tons of shredder waste stockpiled at one facility in Anaheim, Bergeson said that any delay would increase an already serious public health threat and fire hazard.
Because it contains slightly higher levels of the contaminant lead oxide than is permitted by state rules, the fine metal dust left from shredding automobiles has been officially classified as hazardous since 1982.
Bergeson’s bill would reclassify shredder waste as non-hazardous but still require detailed handling and transportation records. Originally, the bill would have weakened the authority of regional water quality agencies to oversee disposal of such wastes. But environmentalists prevailed and as now written the bill would leave that power intact.
The measure was sent back to the Senate Thursday after the Assembly passed it 70 to 0.
Water Table Protection
Bergeson originally introduced the bill to free the eight California firms that produce recycled steel by shredding dismantled automobiles from conflicting, and sometimes confusing, requirements of state and local agencies.
But those firms now say that Bergeson has gone too far with provisions to protect underground water tables. The shredders say that landfill operators will not accept a material that is labeled non-hazardous but has to be handled as if it is.
Dennis Valentine, lobbyist representing auto shredders who originally requested the bill, said: “We certainly can’t work too hard against it. If we find it does not work, which I think we will, we can come back and clean it up next year.”
The Sierra Club and the Planning and Conservation League, once opposed to Bergeson’s bill, have been so successful in getting their amendments into the bill that they want to see it enacted into law.
No other state considers the material hazardous, and officials in the state Department of Health Services have begun to question the appropriateness of the classification.
But while health officials have been willing for more than a year to allow shredders to use regular municipal landfills, regional water officials in Southern California have refused to allow it without extraordinary measures to ensure that the lead oxide does not seep into underground water tables.
Shredding companies in Orange, Los Angeles and San Diego counties have been forced to ship their waste out of state at heavy expense, stockpile large quantities or dump it illegally.