Agency Gives Final OK to Toxic Burn : Ogden Incinerator Test Could Begin as Early as Monday

Times Staff Writer

Ogden Environmental Services’ plan to burn hazardous waste in an experimental La Jolla incinerator overcame its final regulatory obstacle Thursday when the county Air Pollution Control District issued the company final approval to test-burn 30 barrels of contaminated soil from the McColl waste dump in Orange County.

Ogden immediately announced its intention to conduct the three- to five-day test as early as Monday. Soil containing 32 compounds, including 18 suspected carcinogens, will be fed into Ogden’s 1,425-degree incinerator for 8 to 12 hours each day in an effort to demonstrate that the process effectively destroys the hazardous waste.

Stay of Permit Demanded

The Environmental Health Coalition, which for years has fought to prevent the test burn in a populated section of Torrey Pines Mesa, demanded Thursday that the air-pollution district stay the permit while it appeals the decision to a hearing board appointed by the county Board of Supervisors.


Air Pollution Control Officer R. J. Sommerville said he does not have the authority to delay use of the permit, which goes into effect today. But Diane Takvorian, the coalition’s executive director, said she has asked County Counsel Lloyd Harmon to rule on the matter.

Harmon could not be reached for comment Thursday night.

“The Environmental Health Coalition is really deeply dismayed by the APCD’s decision to allow the incineration on Torrey Pines Mesa, given the public outcry against the (preliminary) decision” issued Feb. 22, Takvorian said.

More than 3,000 people had signed a coalition petition opposing the burn, and 150 more sent letters of protest to the air-pollution district during the ensuing public comment period, which ended March 9, she said.


Joe Charest, an Ogden publicist, said the authorization “is validation of what we have been saying all along, that this technology is safe and the testing is safe.”

With the final approval, the Air Pollution Control District became the third government regulatory agency to formally agree. Both the federal Environmental Protection Agency and the state Department of Health Services have granted Ogden, and its predecessor in the project, GA Technologies, permits since GA first applied in July, 1985.

The San Diego City Council tried to block the project by denying the firm a conditional-use permit for the incinerator. But U. S. District Judge Judith Keep ruled last June that the city had no authority to stop the tests, which were a response to strongly worded federal legislation encouraging the development of innovative technology for disposing of hazardous waste.

Sommerville said the air-pollution district’s “screening health risk assessment” assumed a “worst-case scenario” that individuals would be exposed to emissions from the burner’s stack 24 hours a day, every day for 70 years. Even under those conditions, Sommerville said last month, the cancer risk would be no more than 3.6 chances in a million, a number so small that the effect on public health would be negligible.

But Takvorian complained that “these guys don’t know what they’re doing. These regulatory agencies are often working in the dark.” She complained that the APCD did not hold a public hearing on the incinerator and said the health impact of the incinerator may not be known for years.

“We may not know because the children at the child-care center across the street may not demonstrate signs of their exposure until they are 30 or 40 years old,” she said. “But that seems to be the way the regulatory agencies and the industry want to play it.”

Opponents have long protested Ogden’s site in the GA Technologies Research Park because it is near heavily populated facilities, including UC San Diego, three hospitals, a child-care center, residential tracts, the Torrey Pines Inn and the Torrey Pines State Reserve.

For Ogden, the final approval is a significant step forward in its quest to win a contract to clean up the McColl dump under federal Superfund cleanup legislation. If the test burn--which will be monitored by officials from the air-pollution district, the EPA and the state health department--is deemed successful, the firm will send one of its mobile units to Fullerton to further demonstrate the incineration process, Charest said.


EPA officials have determined that incineration is the preferred method for disposing of the 250,000 tons of hazardous waste believed to have been dumped at the site, Charest said.

The approval is solely for the four-day test, Sommerville said. Future burns will require more risk assessments. Ogden has less than three years remaining on a five-year EPA permit to operate the incinerator.