A coalition of oil companies, which may be forced to spend millions of dollars to clean up the McColl dump in Fullerton, has questioned the results of a test burn of hazardous waste taken from the dump.
Based on preliminary findings released last week, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency said that the 4-day test burn in late March successfully destroyed a number of potentially carcinogenic compounds found in contaminated soil from the dump. The burn took place at a private La Jolla incinerator similar to the one that EPA officials eventually may use to burn an estimated 150,000 tons of refinery waste buried at the abandoned McColl dump.
But a spokesman for the oil companies, which federal officials have identified as responsible for cleanup of the toxic dump, said Wednesday that it is "premature" for the EPA to draw any "concrete conclusions" from the test burn.
Bill Duchie, spokesman for the McColl Site Group, the name under which the oil companies have organized, also questioned why the EPA released its preliminary findings before the end of a public comment period on the agency's proposal to burn the wastes on site. Duchie suggested that the EPA's intent was to influence public acceptance of incineration at the 8-acre dump, which is flanked by several expensive, residential neighborhoods.
Releasing the results now, Duchie said, was misleading because there were no comments about the effect of incineration on heavy metals, which are found in large quantities at the dump and pose a potential health risk. Duchie also said that the EPA report lacked any specific reference to the level of emissions produced by the test burn. (The EPA has conceded that incineration at the site may violate local air-quality standards.)
But John Blevins, the EPA's McColl project manager, said the agency had intended from the beginning to release whatever results were available as soon as possible, whether it was before or after the May 29 deadline for public comments on EPA's cleanup proposal.
Blevins also said that the preliminary test report does not specifically mention heavy metals because that analysis is not complete. He also said that "it appears" that emission levels from incineration won't be a major problem. He cautioned, however, that any firm conclusions can not be reached until the full report on the test burn is completed in August.
Federal officials have estimated that it will take 4 to 7 years to burn the McColl waste at a cost of $117 million. The oil companies favor a plan to entomb refinery waste and oil until some technology can be found to remove the wastes. The cost of that option is estimated at $22 million.