Reaction of government officials and community leaders varied from caution to immediate opposition this week as Los Angeles County waste planners unveiled a list of 20 potential sites they say are suitable for a proposed countywide system of hazardous-waste treatment plants.
The proposal, patterned after similar treatment systems used in Germany and Denmark for several years but never attempted on a large scale in the United States, calls for the construction of six treatment plants in heavy industrial areas scattered throughout the county.
Engineers for the county Sanitation Districts said the proposed plants would use chemical processes and intense heat to convert hazardous liquid wastes into less hazardous dry residues. The residues would be hauled to a remote desert site for encapsulation in a clay-lined “residuals repository,” which scientists say will not leak like a conventional landfill.
Potential sites named Tuesday, most of which are available for sale, are in the northeast San Fernando Valley, Santa Fe Springs, Carson, Vernon, Commerce, Bell, Long Beach, Irwindale and Azusa.
Although the county’s plan is strongly backed by officials of the federal Environmental Protection Agency, leaders of many communities voiced resistance.
Los Angeles City Councilman Howard Finn, whose Valley district contains one of the proposed sites, vowed to fight the proposal for a regional treatment-plant system and residuals repository.
Finn has argued that Southern California industry should embrace on-site treatment of hazardous wastes to “take care of the problem where it is generated.” He said such an approach would eliminate the need for trucking wastes on city streets and freeways.
The single site proposed in the San Fernando Valley, at Sheldon Street and San Fernando Road in Sun Valley, is now occupied by a Department of Water and Power steam plant.
Despite enthusiastic federal support for the county’s treatment and disposal plan, Finn and others remain opposed.
Ira Freeman, president of the Sun Valley Chamber of Commerce, said the Sun Valley and Pacoima chambers are also opposed to the proposal.
Freeman echoed complaints shared by officials in other cities who said their communities are already burdened by industries using hazardous materials and that the proposed sites are not in keeping with existing land use.
“The feeling is that Sun Valley has more than its fair share of hazardous-material sites,” Freeman said. “People in Sun Valley have a right not to be the dumping ground for the rest of the Valley and we feel it is appropriate to consider another location.”
Freeman said the proposed site is unsuitable because it is on the same block as Serra Memorial Hospital.
He said community leaders and concerned residents in the northeastern Valley are planning to attend a community meeting on this and other environmental problems on Tuesday. The meeting, to be conducted by the city Environmental Quality Board, will be held at 7:30 p.m. at the Sun Valley Recreation Center.
Nathan Manske, director of public safety in Carson, said he is reviewing the county’s proposal and is preparing to report his recommendations to the Carson City Council at its Oct. 21 meeting.
Four Sites in Carson
Four potential sites were identified in Carson and a fifth site in an unincorporated area just north of the city.
Manske declined comment on the merits of the county’s plan, saying he wants to “find out exactly what’s been proposed and how it would work.”
“It is our understanding from the county that there is no intent to force any site on a city, and that local land-use practices and policies as established by city councils will prevail,” Manske added. “We are operating under that assumption.”
In fact, officials of the county Department of Public Works and the Sanitation Districts noted in their report to the Board of Supervisors on Tuesday that “it will take a concerted effort to convince the public and elected decision-makers that modern hazardous-waste treatment centers . . . are in no way like Superfund sites of the past.”
Don Powell, city manager of Santa Fe Springs, said his City Council last week voted unanimously to oppose the construction of any treatment plant for hazardous wastes in that city and has sent a letter to the county opposing the proposal, which identified five sites in the city.
“The City Council will fight it all the way,” Powell said. “Our feeling in Santa Fe Springs is that we have all the hazards we want here.”
John Dever, city manager of Long Beach, said he had not been informed about the county’s list of potential sites, but noted that Long Beach has strict zoning ordinances concerning hazardous wastes.
“It couldn’t be done without a hell of a lot of work on its environmental impact, traffic impacts and many other concerns,” Dever said.
The single site named in Long Beach, situated near the California 47 freeway at Cerritos Channel in the harbor area, also takes in a large area in the City of Los Angeles.
Have to See the Land
But Dever said he would “have to see the piece of land they are proposing, because we might oppose it just on its face if we don’t agree with the location.”
He expressed concern that the county had not asked the city to help identify potential sites in Long Beach’s industrial area, saying, “We could have saved them a lot of trouble if they had just called us and let us know what they were doing.”
The county Department of Public Works and the county Sanitation Districts hired a Coldwell Banker specialist in industrial real estate to conduct a search of the county’s industrial zones. According to their joint report, the sites selected had to include five to 15 acres near a freeway or major road and be near an adequate sewer system.
County officials are seeking a safe way to dispose of more than 550,000 tons of hazardous wastes that require disposal in Los Angeles County each year.
The last hazardous-waste dump in the county, the BKK landfill in West Covina, was closed last winter to hazardous wastes, forcing firms producing the wastes to hire trucking companies to haul the materials to two dump sites about 200 miles north of Los Angeles.
However, strict new federal laws, to be phased in over the next five years, will prohibit dumping of untreated hazardous wastes and liquids, forcing the county to find an alternative.
Leaders from several cities said they fear the county’s treatment-plant proposal could bring new hazards into their communities.
“This worry is very much on our minds,” said Irwindale Mayor Pat Miranda. “We have gone on record supporting a trash-to-energy plant if it can be proved to meet all federal and state standards, but a hazardous-waste treatment plant is another question.”
Sites Near One Another
Miranda said two of the county’s potential sites, “very close to each other” in the neighboring cities of Irwindale and Azusa in the San Gabriel Valley, are not far from the trash-to-energy plant proposed in Irwindale.
“We are all afraid of hazardous wastes because we don’t really understand what it is,” Miranda said. “I would be very cautious and concerned about what is involved with this proposal, because we’ve read enough about BKK and all these other problems with environmental damage.”
In its report to the Board of Supervisors, county engineers noted that the search for potential treatment sites is not over.
“Time and budget did not allow a comprehensive, block-by-block search of the entire county,” the report said. “Some locations, equally as suitable as those presented herein, may be proposed as treatment or disposal facilities in the future.”