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Health Officials Won’t Act to Shut Toxic Waste Plant

Times Staff Writer

The county health department won’t recommend closing a trouble-plagued toxic waste treatment plant, despite a demand by the city of Chula Vista that it be shut, a county health official said Wednesday.

However, Gary Stephany, deputy director of county Environmental Health Services, conceded that there is “a lot of room for improvement” at the Appropriate Technologies II facility on Otay Mesa.

The 2-acre site Appropriate Technologies II leases is owned by the county but is within the boundaries of Chula Vista.

Last week the company was fined $25,000 for operating without permit, which expired in December. The action followed criticism last month stemming from two chlorine gas leaks in three days. The second leak resulted in the closing of a half-mile road leading to the facility and the adjacent county landfill. There were no injuries.

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The State Department of Health Services is investigating the two leaks.

Unanimous Resolutions

The Chula Vista City Council Tuesday unanimously approved a resolution urging the state and county to take action to close the plant because its operators have failed to ensure the safety of residents who live less than half a mile away.

The council also passed another resolution calling for the facility to relocated away from any residential areas.

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Appropriate Technologies II President Ken Kazarian said Wednesday he would consider moving the facility if the county found a suitable site. However, Stephany said there is very little hope of finding a location that would not face objections.

Stephany said that, since 1981, the plant has been treating household toxics, such as chlorine or pesticides. Chemicals used in making illegal drugs are also brought to the plant after being seized by law enforcement agencies.

Stephany said Appropriate Technologies II has already complied with several of the county’s demands, which followed the Feb. 24 and Feb. 27 accidents.

“We see a lot of need for some corrective things to be done,” Stephany said. “If they tighten up safety and testing practices, that operation can be just as safe as any store that sells chemicals. There’s no way I can go before a court and say it’s any more of a public health emergency than a local market that handles chemicals.”

Second Road Demanded

Among some of the demands made of the company are the construction of a second road into the facility, the testing of all unknown chemicals that come into the plant, an increase in its 10,000-gallon water supply--which firefighters said was inadequate during the recent accidents--and providing 24-hour security. Stephany said the company has hired around-the-clock security and has begun working on a new testing procedure.

However, Chula Vista City Councilman David Malcolm said Wednesday that the plant “shouldn’t be located in an area where, if there is a major spill, it could claim human lives.”

Although there are several toxic-waste transfer stations in San Diego County, Stephany said, Appropriate Technologies II is one of less than a dozen in the state and the only one in the county that treats the hazardous waste before it is shipped to other locations--usually out of state--to be disposed. He added that about 70% of toxic-waste producers in the county are situated south of California 94.

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