State investigators have cited Seal Beach Naval Weapons Station with 18 violations of hazardous-waste laws after finding 27 drums of napalm waste and other infractions during a routine inspection, officials said Friday.
"By committing these violations, the Navy has abused the privilege it received from the (state) to store hazardous waste at Seal Beach," said James M. Strock, secretary of the California Environmental Protection Agency.
"Private companies that violate (environmental) laws are subject to heavy fines," he said, "and we believe the federal government should meet the same standards."
Base officials said Friday that they have complied with their state permit in the handling of hazardous material and have disposed of the napalm waste, which they said posed no danger to the public.
Nevertheless, the state is seeking $191,500 in fines, although state EPA officials acknowledged that there is no federal regulation requiring military entities to pay fines to any state agency.
Because they work with weapons and chemicals, military bases are commonly cited for environmental law violations, according to Allan Hirsch, a spokesman for the state EPA. But the number of violations allegedly committed by the Seal Beach base is unusually high, he said.
"Normally, most of these bases would only get cited for a handful of violations," Hirsch said. "Eighteen is a large number."
However, base officials complained that the state cited the base with some violations even after the problems had been corrected after notification of the agency's findings in January.
Furthermore, said the base's spokesman, Richard Williamson, the string of citations is the result of "a disagreement between the military and the state over definitions, standards and terminology."
The state EPA this week issued an enforcement order, which says the base violated state environmental laws and the state health and safety code. The 48-year-old, 5,000-acre weapons station is the primary installation for ordnance loading and unloading of naval ships bound for Long Beach.
During a routine inspection of the facility Dec. 17, EPA investigators found 27 55-gallon containers of napalm waste and an open paper bag containing the same substance. Napalm, gasoline thickened into a gel and used in incendiary explosives, does not pose an immediate danger to the public in its solid-waste form, EPA officials said.
The napalm waste had been shipped last year from Fallbrook Naval Weapons Station in northern San Diego County, Williamson said.
According Hirsch, the Seal Beach station violated the California Hazardous Waste Facility Permit, which explicitly prohibits a facility from accepting and storing hazardous waste transferred from another site without state approval.
Williamson argued that the base did not need the state EPA's permission to receive the waste because the Fallbrook facility is an annex of the Sea Beach station, not a separate facility.
Also, he added, the base has complied with the state permit, which gives a facility 90 days to remove hazardous material shipped in from elsewhere.
After receiving the state EPA's notice of the violations in January, Williamson said, the base removed all 27 drums and the paper bag containing the waste.
Hirsch said the EPA has not been notified that the napalm waste has been removed and added that there remains the question of the chemical coming from another facility.
"If they say Fallbrook is a part of their facility, then we have a disagreement," Hirsch said.
The Seal Beach base has many such disagreements with the EPA and its notice of violations, said Williamson, who added that many "of the so-called violations we don't think are violations."
He noted the state's citation that the base did not post no-smoking signs near a chemical storage area.
"We are a no-smoking facility, that's why we didn't have the signs," Williamson said. "After we received notice in January, we put up the signs and told them in our reply in March that the signs were there. Still, they cited us."
The base was also cited for incorrect labeling on waste containers, inadequate record-keeping, open containers holding hazardous waste, waste stored in an unauthorized area, failure to have spill-detection gauges on storage tanks, cracks on the floor of a storage room and insufficient aisle space in a storage area.
Since January, the base has corrected its labeling procedures, placed the necessary detection equipment on the tanks and contracted to have the floor fixed, Williamson said.
As for aisle space, he said: "We've told them for three years to tell us what kind of space they're talking about, but they never tell us. We are willing to work with the state, and we take the notice seriously, and we want to run a very aggressive environmentally safe program. We just need to sit down together and talk it out."
The Navy has two weeks either to discuss the violations and fine with the state or to appeal to an administrative law judge.