Toxic Waste Burner in Carson Considered : State, U.S. Officials Enthusiastic About Incinerator; City Not So Sure

Times Staff Writer

California's first commercial incinerator for disposal of a broad range of hazardous wastes may be operating by late summer at Stauffer Chemical Co. in Carson, federal and state officials said Friday.

Officials from the federal Environmental Protection Agency and the state Department of Health Services called the expected opening of the incinerator one of the first steps away from California's dependence on landfills and into "a new generation in hazardous waste disposal."

But Carson officials, worried about the environmental effects of the facility, threatened to delay the project by requiring Stauffer to obtain a special city permit and prepare an environmental impact report.

State officials said they are still assessing whether they will require an environmental report. It is not required under federal regulations.

The waste incinerator, which would be only the fifth in the nation approved by the EPA, would burn 50,000 gallons a day of primarily liquid waste at more than 1,800 degrees Fahrenheit. It would be adapted from a furnace that Stauffer currently uses for recycling spent sulfuric acid from oil refineries and chemical companies.

Once the incinerator opened, Stauffer would continue to use it for acid recycling as well as waste disposal, company officials said.

Cake of Residue Left

The incinerator would generate gas and vapors that would be filtered through an air pollution control device, leaving behind a cake of hazardous residue estimated at less than 1% of the volume of the original liquid waste. The cakes would then be placed in a landfill.

Because the waste would no longer be in liquid form, the chances of hazardous waste evaporating into the air or contaminating ground water would be greatly diminished, EPA officials said.

"This will be the first commercial facility for incinerating hazardous waste and, because of that . . . this is an extremely important project," said John Hart, an EPA environmental engineer based in San Francisco. "I think everyone who's interested in hazardous waste management is looking at this as a model, basically."

Stauffer, which has operated in Carson about 60 years, began conducting tests a year ago with hopes of opening an incinerator. Tests satisfied federal and state requirements for hazardous waste incinerators, state and EPA officials said.

Environmental officials said the incinerator would probably be permitted to burn industry-generated hazardous wastes ranging from contaminated gasoline to such toxic chemicals as carbon tetrachloride and benzene. The company has not asked to burn what the EPA calls more politically sensitive chemicals such as dioxins or polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) in detectable levels.

The EPA and the state health department are currently reviewing an environmental permit application that Stauffer filed in August, 1984. The agencies will hold the first public information meeting on the facility next Tuesday night at Carson City Hall.

Decision by May Seen

"Based on the information we have now, there's no reason to believe the permit won't be issued," said John Hinton, chief of the Southern California facility permitting unit of the health department's toxic substances control division.

After next week's public meeting, the government agencies will complete the facility's draft permit, take written comments on it and hold a formal public hearing. Officials said a decision on the project's final permit could be made as early as May. Company officials said they may be ready to begin operating two to four months afterward.

But Carson officials said they will intervene before then.

"You aren't going to have the state's first hazardous waste incinerator in this city without an environmental impact report," said Patricia Nemeth, Carson community development director.

At issue for Carson are such concerns as transportation of the waste, emergency plans, safety procedures and general exposure to risk, Nemeth said.

Homes are located within a quarter of a mile north and south of the Stauffer plant, located at 20720 S. Wilmington Ave.

Increased Truck Traffic

Stauffer estimates that operation of the incinerator would increase traffic to and from the plant by 10 to 12 trucks a day. About 50 trucks now travel to and from Stauffer.

Requirement of a conditional-use permit and an environmental impact report could delay Stauffer's project--estimated to cost $8 million--at least six to nine months, Nemeth said.

Meanwhile, state and federal officials said they are also reviewing two other applications for commercial hazardous waste incinerators, one to be run by Security Environmental Systems Inc. in Vernon, and a second to be operated by Stauffer at another existing plant in Martinez, Calif., northeast of Oakland.

In addition, GA Technologies in San Diego County has requested a permit for a hazardous waste incinerator to be used for research purposes, officials said.

A cement-manufacturing plant in Kern County, General Portland Inc., now has a state-approved permit for a cement kiln that burns some hazardous wastes. Such a permit is more restrictive, allowing the burning of waste only for energy generation. It does not handle waste purely for disposal purposes.

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