EPA Proposes Treating Toxins Near OII Dump

Times Staff Writer

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has identified five potential sites in and around the Operating Industries Inc. hazardous waste site for a treatment plant to process thousands of gallons of highly toxic liquid collected daily at the now-closed dump near Montebello.

The EPA favors construction of a treatment plant to deal with the liquid waste, or leachate, that could endanger the public if it were allowed to seep out of the dump, which apparently has occurred in the past, said EPA spokeswoman Alexis Strauss.

The other alternative being considered by the EPA is continuing the current practice of trucking the leachate to a treatment plant in Vernon.

EPA officials met Thursday night with local residents and representatives of Montebello and Monterey Park at Schurr High School in Montebello to receive comments on draft feasibility studies. The dump site is in Monterey Park but is bisected by the Pomona Freeway and abuts Montebello to the south. A final decision on leachate management will not be made until June, Strauss said.

"We're suggesting the on-site treatment plant would be more reliable and cheaper for the five-year period we're considering," said Strauss, who noted that community approval is vital. "We're not saying that that's it yet."

Development Plans

Among the five potential sites for a treatment plant is a parcel in Montebello, south of the Pomona Freeway and east of the dump, that Montebello plans to acquire to develop an auto mart. Another is a parcel inside the dump boundaries and north of the freeway, where Monterey Park plans to develop a business park.

Two other proposed sites are within the dump and south of the Pomona Freeway, and the fifth alternative is north of the freeway and to the west of the landfill at a nursery.

City officials and community representatives question whether there is enough leachate at the site to warrant construction of a treatment plant.

Hank Yoshitake, head of Homeowners to Eliminate Landfill Problems, said he would like to see further study to determine if a treatment plant is warranted. He said a leachate plant would create noise in the area with its pumps and generators, and present the danger of spills.

'Big Question Mark'

"There's a big question mark as to how much leachate is in that dump," said Yoshitake, who lives near the dump in Montebello. "If it's fairly dry we will propose to continue trucking the leachate to a treatment plant outside of the area."

Yoshitake said the community group would support the treatment plant if enough leachate were found, but it would want the plant closed once the leachate problem is remedied. He also said the community wants a guarantee that no leachate from other areas would be brought in for treatment.

Monterey Park City Manager Lloyd de Llamas said the feasibility studies are still being examined by the city. "The council expressed a concern that maybe there is no need for a leachate plant at all," he said.

If the treatment plant is needed, neither Monterey Park nor Montebello is volunteering to have it near their residents or where developments are planned.

De Llamas said his city favors the site on the western edge of the dump south of the freeway, near several 20,000-gallon leachate storage tanks that are in place so the liquid would not have to be transported across the freeway. A gas recovery plant is already on the site.

Plans for Business Center

Monterey Park plans for development of a business center on one of the sites identified by the EPA--a parcel north of the Pomona Freeway--once it is deemed safe.

"We would be very concerned about piping leachate across" the freeway, de Llamas said.

The Montebello City Council has taken no official position on whether a treatment plant is needed or which site would be best. But at this point, all three sites south of the freeway appear to be unacceptable, said City Administrator Joseph M. Goeden.

The city would like to see an auto center developed on one site, and the others are too close to residential areas in the city, he said.

"We know where we don't want it," Goeden said. "We'd like the EPA not to put it close to our homes."

The 190-acre Operating Industries Inc. landfill accepted municipal and industrial waste from 1948 to 1984. It was listed as a Superfund site and targeted for priority cleanup by the EPA in May, 1986.

From 1976 to 1984, the period for which records are available, more than 285 million gallons of liquid wastes were dumped at the site.

Dangerous Liquid

The leachate at the site is a dark-colored, musky-smelling liquid composed of oil and grease, heavy metals and volatile organic compounds including vinyl chloride, sulfides and other elements. Some of those chemicals found in the leachate are known or suspected to cause cancer, genetic mutations and birth defects.

Strauss said the amount of liquids that were dumped at the site warrants construction of a treatment plant, even though the EPA does not yet know exactly how much leachate is at the site.

"If after five years . . . there's none left, the plant can be dismantled and sold," she said.

For now, the EPA is working to maintain the safety of the landfill, while developing a long-term solution to clean up the site. A study to determine how best to proceed is expected to be complete in 1989. The full cleanup program probably will start in the early 1990s, Strauss said.

The EPA is monitoring the site and maintaining various systems to control potential dangers to the surrounding community. They include a system to extract and burn off gases emanating from the dump and a leachate collection system.

Preparing to Sample Air

The primary gases generated from the landfill that are of concern are the explosive gas methane and vinyl chloride, a known human carcinogen. The EPA is preparing to implement an air-sampling plan at the site.

A state and county health study released in November found that nearby residents had no serious health problems associated with the dump. But it also found that those residents were more likely to suffer headaches, sore throats and nausea.

The EPA favors the on-site treatment plant because of its cost-effectiveness over the long run and because it would be a sure alternative, Strauss said.

"There are only two (treatment plants) in the Los Angeles County area that we could take the stuff to," she said. "And we have no way of guaranteeing they'll stay in business."

The on-site treatment plant would cost from $1.5 million to $2.2 million to build, depending on its sophistication and location, according to EPA estimates.

On-site treatment costs would range from $553,000 to $783,000 a year, while it would cost about $1.6 million a year to transport and treat the leachate off site, the study said. The EPA plans to recover the cost of the operation from companies that used the dump.

The other alternatives that were ruled out included on-site and off-site disposal.

Currently, the leachate is collected and stored at the site in tanks before it is removed by vacuum trucks and transported to the ChemTech treatment plant in Vernon. The treated liquid is then disposed of in the local sewer system, and sludge is disposed at hazardous waste dumps.

Leachate collection reached a high of 18,000 gallons a day in December, 1984, but the current volume is about 10,000 gallons per day, Strauss said.

The EPA considers physical and chemical waste treatment to be the most effective in dealing with the Operating Industries Inc. leachate if a treatment plant were built on site. Incineration and biological treatment have been ruled out.

Treated leachate would be discharged into the local sewer system, and sludge would be disposed of off site, similar to the process used at the Vernon treatment plant. While some gases would come from the treatment plant, an air pollution control system would keep hazardous gases from seeping into the air, Strauss said.

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