Toxics Incinerator Proposal Sparks Opposition

Times Staff Writer

A $29-million incinerator in Vernon, now seeking final permits, will become a computerized crematory for toxic wastes, cleanly burning more than 20 tons of hazardous sludge each year at scorching temperatures of 1,800 degrees, according to the proposed operators.

But to Mark Warfel, the father of two school-age children, an important concern is what the smoke from the plant might do to his offspring.

"You can put literally hundreds of thousands of people at risk," Warfel said Monday, drawing cheers from other residents during a public hearing held by the state Department of Health Services and the federal Environmental Protection Agency in South Gate.

Weighing Permits

With more than 20 regulatory permits in hand, the California Thermal Treatment Service is awaiting a decision this spring by state and federal officials who are weighing final construction permits. The company hopes to open the plant by 1989, making it the first toxic-waste incinerator in an urbanized California area.

Although the hearing was lightly attended during the day, the crowd swelled to 650 Monday night. The plan drew support Monday from some business leaders and scientists, but residents from surrounding areas lashed out at the project, which would occupy the site of a closed, steel-fabricating plant near the Long Beach and Santa Ana freeways. Residents demanded that the plant be built elsewhere or that construction be postponed pending an environmental impact study.

Phyllis Rabins, representing a group of San Gabriel Valley homeowners, heavily criticized the City of Vernon and the South Coast Air Quality Management District for granting initial permits for the plant without requesting such a report. Exhausts from the plant would join with the odors of nearby meat-packing plants and auto exhaust to create an increasing health risk throughout the region, she said.

Last month, critics of the plant, including environmentalists and Latino neighborhood groups, chanted slogans opposing the incinerator and forced postponement of the hearing.

Robert Menees of Bright & Associates, which has represented California Thermal in its quest for construction permits, defended the project as a clean and effective alternative to disposing of wastes in landfills. Only two landfills in the state now accept the most hazardous toxic wastes.

In an interview Menees said computerized, state-of-the-art equipment would enable the plant's huge kiln and afterburner to operate 24 hours a day and meet federal clean-air standards.

Lab Animals

Responding to concerns that the plant might produce dioxins--a powerful substance that has produced cancer in laboratory animals and is a suspected carcinogen for humans--Menees said those amounts, if any, would be "very insignificant."

"By that I mean below the detection level," he said. "And we don't think there would be any."

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