Eagle Rock Considered for Trash Project

Times Staff Writer

City Council members and sanitation officials are trying to decide whether northeast Los Angeles or the west San Fernando Valley will be the site of a pilot project encouraging homeowners to separate hazardous materials from other household trash.

Eagle Rock is being considered as the test site, with a temporary storage yard to be located possibly in Glassell Park, according to Al Avila, legislative deputy to Councilman Richard Alatorre.

The $637,000 project will be the first large-scale attempt in California to provide homeowners with an alternative to the improper disposal of hazardous materials--everything from pool chemicals to pesticides--said William Knapp, manager of the refuse collection division of the city Bureau of Sanitation.

"Until now, we've told people you can't put this stuff in the trash," Knapp said. "But we haven't told people what they can do with it."

Homeowners frequently discard a wide range of toxic or dangerous materials as if it were ordinary garbage, Knapp said. The result can be injury to a sanitation worker or, years down the line, contamination of ground water beneath landfills, he said.

About 200 sanitation workers have been injured by exposure to such substances since 1980, Knapp said. Ground water is threatened when household garbage is taken to landfills that are not licensed or designed to handle paint thinner, oils, pesticides and other hazardous materials that are sometimes buried in such trash. "The accumulated buildup of these materials over many years is a concern," Knapp said. "Sooner or later, it's got to go somewhere."

The selection of the project area will depend most heavily on where the sanitation bureau can find a site for temporary storage of the hazardous refuse, Knapp said.

Under consideration in Alatorre's 14th District is the Eagle Rock site and a sanitation yard at the intersection of San Fernando Road and Figueroa Street in Glassell Park. In addition, officials have visited city-owned properties in the West Valley that have the appropriate zoning and permits to accept the material, Knapp said.

Alatorre, who represents central and East Los Angeles, will not approve the project until the city has obtained all permits for the temporary storage site, said his deputy, Avila.

Central City Site

Knapp said it would be appropriate to put the storage for the project near downtown because it would help remove toxic materials from garbage destined to be burned in the LANCER trash-to-ash incinerator the city is trying to have built in that area.

The possibility of dangerous chemicals in the smoke from such an incinerator is a major source of public opposition to the LANCER project, he said.

The waste-collection project was at first proposed for the Harbor area, but, because of opposition from residents, Councilwoman Joan Milke Flores turned it down, Knapp said. "They already have a lot of hazardous waste haulers and treatment facilities down there," he said.

In the meantime, Councilwoman Joy Picus, who represents the West Valley, has expressed a strong interest in having the pilot program in her district, said Susan Pasternak, a Picus aide. Picus has consistently supported efforts to control sources of hazardous waste, she said.

The trash separation program, first approved by the City Council and the federal Environmental Protection Agency in mid-1985, has been delayed by concerns that collected hazardous materials might overburden a local storage site before they could be shipped out to a licensed hazardous waste dump, according to sanitation officials.

The $637,000 cost will be paid out of a $2-million Environmental Trust Fund set aside by the city as part of an agreement reached with the EPA in 1980 after Los Angeles was found in violation of the federal Clean Water Act, said Robert Alpern, principal sanitary engineer for the city.

The project has taken two years to develop, Knapp said, because an enormous number of regulatory agencies had to be consulted. "It took a good part of a year just to get it to where we could seriously propose it," he said.

The second year was taken up in working out details of the program, lining up the necessary permits, and offering the project to council members for their districts, he said.

Backlogs in Processing

Early in the project, temporary storage of the collected material was seen as a minor problem, said Alpern. But, as plans were completed, it was discovered that the licensed hazardous-waste facilities that are to be the final destination of the material are experiencing enormous backlogs in processing the waste that is sent each day, Alpern said.

Material might have to accumulate at the temporary storage site for two weeks or more before it can be trucked to a dump, Alpern said. "That's a lot longer period of time than we'd anticipated," he said. The site will have to be an area big enough for packing the material into drums and for storing the drums, Knapp said.

Sanitation officials and City Council members are expected to decide on the site in the next several weeks, Knapp said. Once the site is chosen, the program will be offered to 20,000 to 25,000 households, Knapp said. "We're hoping for about a 20% to 25% response initially" among those households, he said.

The first phase of the project will be an intensive effort to collect the hazardous materials that accumulate in the average garage and under the average kitchen sink over many years, Knapp said.

Just a few of the many materials that are considered hazardous are pool chemicals, motor oil, darkroom chemicals, discarded batteries, chlorine bleach and weed killers, said Ellen Rabin, a spokeswoman for the Department of Public Works, who will be involved in a public education program that will accompany the collection effort.

"We estimate that the garages in the Valley are probably full of pesticides," she said.

A resident in the test area will be able to telephone a special sanitation bureau unit whenever a hazardous material has appeared--be it a bucket of motor oil from an oil change or a unlabeled bottle discovered in a corner of a basement.

A fleet of trucks will periodically collect such items. The service will operate just as the existing city program does for collecting discarded "couches and refrigerators and dead animals and so forth," Knapp said.

Special Training

About 36 sanitation bureau employees, including several chemists, will participate in the project, Knapp said. All will receive specialized training in the handling, packaging and disposal of hazardous waste.

The chemists will identify materials in unlabeled containers and will help determine how the various waste products should be packed to ensure that they do not react with one another.

After it is collected, the material will be taken to a city-owned site where it will be packed in barrels or chemically treated to neutralize it before it is shipped to a hazardous waste dump.

After six months, the city will assess the cost and effectiveness of the project, Knapp said. "If it works, we would expand the concept gradually throughout the city over the course of a year or so."

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