Saugus' Bermite Wins Variance to Burn Explosive Waste Until Jan. 7

Times Staff Writer

Bermite, a Saugus defense contractor, Wednesday received approval from the South Coast Air Quality Management District to resume open burning of explosive waste.

But the air district also ordered the company not to accept any new contracts that would generate more such waste.

Bermite was granted two temporary open-burning variances earlier this year on the condition that it look for an alternative way to dispose of waste. Although the AQMD voted Wednesday to give Bermite another variance, which lasts until Jan. 7, it imposed the limit on new contracts because, according to Bill Freedman, a lawyer for the air district, "they have not moved one inch closer to having a solution."

Although Bermite has hired a consultant, it "has not committed sufficient resources to finding an alternative solution to open burning," Freedman said. The prohibition on new contracts will be reconsidered after the variance lapses, he said.

3-2 Vote on Variance

Bermite, which had asked for a variance allowing it to continue open burning for another six months, was granted the shorter burning period by a 3-2 vote, Freedman said.

Company officials were unavailable for comment.

Bermite's last variance, which expired in late August, authorized the company to burn up to 600 pounds of waste a week at its 1,100-acre production and test site.

The AQMD's action Wednesday again will allow Bermite to burn 600 pounds a week so it can dispose of some of the 10,000 to 20,000 pounds of explosive waste it has generated in the last three months, Freedman said.

Makes Decoy Flares

Bermite, a division of Los Angeles-based Whittaker Corp., manufactures decoy flares and other explosive components for weapons systems.

Several other defense contractors in the Santa Clarita Valley that make or test a variety of explosive devices for the military have also encountered problems disposing of explosive waste. The AQMD board is trying to end the practice of open burning by forcing the companies to find alternative ways to dispose of their waste.

Space Ordnance Systems, a division of TransTechnology Corp., based in Sherman Oaks, was denied a variance to burn more than 50 tons of waste stored at two plants near Canyon Country.

As a result, the company was forced in April to suspend production of flares and lay off 150 employees. SOS has since shipped a small amount of the waste to a South Carolina disposal site and has recycled much of the rest, a company spokesman said. In September, it resumed flare production and rehired 25 employees.

Brush Fire Started

National Technical Systems, an explosives testing company, was cited by the AQMD for burning explosive waste in Saugus without a permit. The company allegedly started a five-acre brush fire in August when the waste it was burning exploded.

Bermite, which has been burning its waste on and off for several years under county fire permits or AQMD variances, has said its burning has no significant effect on air quality.

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