Judge Allows Private Firms to Take Over Cleanup of Operating Industries Landfill

Times Staff Writer

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency will hand over the job of cleaning up and monitoring the Operating Industries Inc. landfill in Monterey Park to a group of private companies within the next four months.

The companies will do the work under terms of an agreement that was approved last week by U.S. District Judge Mariana R. Pfaelzer.

Terry Wilson, EPA spokesman, said responsibility for day-to-day monitoring and cleanup work at the site will be transferred gradually to the OII Steering Committee, organized by a group of companies that disposed hazardous waste at the landfill.

The transfer of responsibility means that new contractors hired by the steering committee will replace the contractors that have been doing cleanup work for the EPA. The EPA and the state Department of Health Services will continue to supervise cleanup of the site, and the EPA will continue to develop a long-range cleanup plan.


Placed on Priority List

The dump received more than 200 million gallons of hazardous waste from oil refineries, food companies and chemical and industrial plants before it was closed in 1984 after complaints about odors and other environmental problems, including the buildup of landfill gas laced with toxic chemicals. It was placed on the national priority list for cleanup under the federal Superfund program in 1986. The federal Superfund law makes companies liable for the hazardous waste they generate even after they have legally disposed of it in a landfill.

The EPA gave companies that shipped more than 24,450 gallons of hazardous waste to the dump the choice of paying cash for the cleanup or taking on the work themselves. More than 50 companies agreed to pay more than $31 million in cash. An additional 60 companies chose to pay a much lesser amount, $1.9 million, and spend $34 million on cleanup work. The agreements cover only the initial cleanup efforts. EPA officials have said the cost ultimately could reach $200 million to $300 million.

Jeff Zimmerman, steering committee chairman, said the companies that took on the cleanup task believe they can do the job more efficiently than the government.


“We think we can speed it up,” Zimmerman said. “The whole idea is to accelerate the cleanup.”

Aggressive Approach

Zimmerman said experience has shown that the cheapest, most efficient way to deal with a toxic waste site is to tackle the problem aggressively, installing environmental controls as quickly as possible.

The steering committee, through its contractors, will take over and expand the system for monitoring, collecting and burning landfill gas, improve irrigation and erosion control at the site and collect and haul away leachate, the contaminated liquids that accumulate in the landfill.

Zimmerman said the group also will design and construct a plant to treat leachate at the site. Complicating the design of the leachate system is the fact that the 190-acre dump is bisected by the Pomona Freeway, and it may be necessary to install pipes over or under the freeway to carry leachate from the south side of the dump to the plant on the north side, he said.

More than 4,000 companies sent hazardous waste to the landfill, but 80% of the volume came from 182 of them, EPA officials said. Nearly two-thirds of the 182 companies are parties to the agreement, including the top 10 sources: Chevron, Atlantic Richfield, American National Can Co., Texaco, Exxon USA, McDonnell Douglas Corp. Union Oil, Norris Inc., Sun Oil and Occidental Petroleum.

2 Firms Added

The cash settlements approved by the court last week for the initial stages of the cleanup range from $15,000 from the Coca-Cola Co. to $5.9 million from Atlantic Richfield. Two companies that were not part of the original settlement announced in December were added to the settlement this week. The companies, Ameroil and Southwest Processors, will pay a total of more than $440,000, including a 10% penalty for settling late.


Wilson said the EPA intends to pursue action against companies that shipped hazardous waste to the dump but have not agreed to contribute to the cleanup.

Wilson said the next step in the cleanup plan will be construction of an expanded system to collect and burn landfill gas. The EPA has estimated the cost of building and operating the system for 30 years at $73 million.

Landfill gas is created by the decomposition of trash. EPA studies indicated that the landfill will generate gas for 45 to 60 years.