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500 Protest Van Nuys Firm’s Proposal to Use Toxic Materials in Test

Times Staff Writer

A Van Nuys defense company’s plan to test a new process to incinerate toxic materials was assailed by nearly 500 residents and environmentalists at a public hearing Thursday night.

The residents said they fear that the tests will threaten air quality and public health. Many demanded that a thorough environmental review of the plan be conducted before the burning of hazardous substances is permitted.

State Department of Health Services officials were loudly interrupted at the hearing at Birmingham High School by audience members. “Do you live in Van Nuys?” audience members shouted.

The Department of Health Services scheduled the hearing after awarding Marquardt Co., at 16555 Saticoy St., a $70,000 grant to test a toxic-disposal method by incinerating hazardous liquid substances under controlled circumstances.

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The grant was awarded as part of a state program to test technologies for recycling and disposing of hazardous material.

Notices describing the project were mailed by the state to 1,000 residents who live near the Marquardt plant, touching off a community protest.

Milena Miller, president of the Reseda Community Assn., said: “We are aggravated and upset about this. We originally wanted an environmental impact report. Now we simply do not want the tests here.”

Activists with Greenpeace, an environmental organization, carried a huge banner that read: “Burn it today--breathe it tomorrow.”

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The technology to be used at Marquardt calls for chemicals to be burned at more than 3,000 degrees, officials say. Marquardt engineers say the process breaks down toxic material into carbon dioxide and salts that are filtered out. Emissions consist of only water and air, they say.

Before the testing can occur, Marquardt must receive a permit from the South Coast Air Quality Management District. Jacqueline Switzer, a district spokeswoman , said Thursday it will be several weeks before a decision is made on the permit.

Also, the Los Angeles Planning Department is reviewing whether zoning at the plant site allows operation of a hazardous-materials incinerator. Franklin P. Eberhard, the city’s chief zoning administrator, said Marquardt may need to apply for a new zoning permit. He said he has asked the company to submit detailed plans of the testing process for Planning Department review.

Similar tests of the incineration technology were tried in 1976 under a federal program and more recently in the testing of sophisticated jet engines, when engineers discovered that 99.9% of the chemicals in jet fuel are consumed at extremely high temperatures.

Marquardt, which also manufactures products for the Defense Department, has proposed that testing occur three days a week over five weeks. In one test, 100-gallon mixtures of jet fuel and a solvent called trichlorbenzene would be burned, officials say. In another, lacquer thinners and paint would be burned, they say.

Company officials said Thursday night that in the wake of community protests, they have abandoned a plan to incinerate the carcinogen, carbon tetrachloride. They said they had sought to use the solvent because it is difficult to burn and would have been useful in evaluating the efficiency of the incineration process.

Residents and environmentalists maintained at the hearing, however, that testing of any of the toxic substances might be dangerous to the densely populated Van Nuys neighborhood.

“There is absolutely no reason for that thing to be tested in a residential area,” said Doug Jungwirth of Van Nuys.

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