Trash had never been an issue of concern for Mt. San Antonio College student Janine Calarco. But standing atop 300 feet of neatly piled rubbish at the Puente Hills landfill, she was pondering the question of how to dispose of refuse.
"My main concern is now--what to do with it," Calarco said. "I think the idea of waste-to-energy is a good idea, but I'm concerned with the problems it might pose."
Steve Maguin would like to dispel such fears. "We're working with all of the regulatory agencies to prove to the city councils (that the plants) are safe," said Maguin, an engineer who heads the county Sanitation Districts' solid waste management department.
Calarco and Maguin were among more than 90 people who participated Saturday in a six-hour program sponsored by the League of Women Voters of East San Gabriel Valley. The program included a tour of landfills and waste-to-energy facilities and a discussion of waste management.
League Supports Concept
The league, which supports trash-to-energy plants, hoped that the bus tour and discussions would show residents that, with proper precautions, such plants can work.
"We've been monitoring the waste-to-energy hearings, and became aware of the fact that there was a great deal of momentum in fighting the technology instead of learning how it works," said Mary Johnson, a league spokesman. "Most people will moderate their views if you talk to them."
According to a position paper distributed to the participants, the league supports "the concept of waste-to-energy facilities both as an alternative to land disposal and as a form of resource recovery."
That same position is held by officials from the Sanitation Districts, the Air Resources Board and the South Coast Air Quality Management District who went along on the bus tour.
But many of the concerned citizens on the tour were uncertain.
Calarco said she had taken a college course on the environment and was curious about the waste-to-energy concept. Others on the tour said they live near proposed waste-to-energy plant sites or are involved in the study of waste management. Many just wanted to know how waste-to-energy plants would affect them and their communities.
"We're damned if we do and damned if we don't," said Nancy Adin, a member of the West Covina Waste Management Commission. "If we continue with landfills, we're damned. If we go to refuse-to-energy, we risk."
Mary Gjerde, editor for the Whittier League of Women Voters, remained skeptical. "We're being overwhelmed with enough pollution without the additional monstrosity planned," she said.
Gjerde also raised a concern that has been voiced repeatedly by San Gabriel Valley residents--that their community is becoming Southern California's trash can.
"I don't think we should be the receptacle of Beverly Hills trash, San Fernando Valley trash and West Los Angeles trash," Gjerde said.
But Joe Haworth, a spokesman for the Sanitation Districts, said refuse is a reality that has to be dealt with, and waste-to-energy plants address the problem. "Waste is not a nice thing," he said. "But this looks like it has some good possibilities. Give it a break."
The first stop on the tour was a refuse-to-energy plant under construction in the City of Commerce. The plant will burn 300 tons of trash a day, and construction is expected to be completed later this year.
Sanitation Districts officials explained how the plant will work and emphasized its pollution control systems.
Exhaust gases, for example, will be filtered to "very low sub-micron levels," said Michael Selna, operations section head of the Sanitation Districts solid waste management department. He said that 99.9% of all particles as small as a micron--one-millionth of a meter in diameter--would be trapped.
Guard Against Acid Rain
Selna said that 90% to 95% of acid gases would be removed, preventing acid rain from forming and eliminating a visible plume from the smokestack.
The Commerce plant will use the heat from burning refuse to create steam, which will turn a turbine generator to produce electricity. "We're using good engineering and the best available equipment in the world," Maguin said.
The tour continued to the Puente Hills landfill, which overlooks the junction of the 60 (Pomona) and 605 (San Gabriel River) freeways. The Sanitation Districts have filed permits with the South Coast Air Quality Management District for two plants that would burn up to 10,000 tons of trash a day and produce 47 megawatts of power. But sanitation officials said the capacities of the plants have not been determined.
The tour group also was shown turbines already in operation at the landfill to collect methane and carbon dioxide gases and turn them into energy. District officials told the group that an expansion of the facility, which now produces three megawatts of power, is under way and that the plant will produce between 42 and 43 megawatts by summer. Three megawatts is enough power for about 1,900 homes, according to Russ Hawkes, a spokesman for Southern California Edison Co.
Some people on the tour voiced concern about what might happen to their neighborhoods if a waste-to-energy plant were built nearby.
"We want to live here and raise our children and stay," Gjerde said. "I don't like what's happening."
"It's the 'NIMBY' syndrome," said Craig Petersen, an instructor in environmental biology at Mt. San Antonio College in Walnut. "It means 'not in my backyard." '
Petersen said he would not want a waste-to-energy plant in his backyard. "I would always have fears with any of these industrial complexes. There will always be failures and always be problems."
But Stephen Wilson, an Agoura resident who has been involved in manufacturing air pollution control devices for 15 years, said that although such fears are understandable, protections are available to ensure that residents can feel comfortable with a plant "across the street."
After the Puente Hills tour, the buses headed to the Sanitation Districts headquarters across the freeway for lunch and a panel discussion with sanitation officials, a League of Women Voters official, an Air Resources Board official and a member of the Long Beach chapter of the Sierra Club, which has been active in studying the waste-to-energy plant proposed in that city.
"The Sierra Club does not yet have a policy on waste-to-energy," Bob Lamond said. "Sierra Club approval of this (Long Beach) plant specifically stated that we approve this plant only--not waste-to-energy plants all over the place. We have not reached the point yet where we have any blanket policy that says waste-to-energy is the way to go."
Maggie Wilkinson, an official with the Air Resources Board, explained how the board determines whether substances are airborne toxics, and therefore contribute to air pollution, and assured the audience that "resource recovery facilities that are being planned in California will meet the emission guidelines."