VERNON : Toxic-Waste Foes: Victory in Defeat

Although the community group lost in a state appellate court last week, Mothers of East Los Angeles has succeeded in helping prevent a local company from transporting toxic waste in what has been called one of the state's most polluted cities.

The 2nd Appellate Court's decision Wednesday upheld a Superior Court ruling that the city was justified in granting a conditional-use permit in 1992 to JCI Environmental Services Inc., 4133 Bandini Blvd., to transport hazardous waste.

Mothers of East L.A. sued JCI and the city that year over the issuance of the permit after it was discovered that the company failed to properly store hazardous waste on its property and that other conditions were not being met.

In April, following pleas from Mothers of East L.A., the City Council revoked the company's permit after a monitoring system detected that a waste tank was leaking.

City inspectors also cited potential soil contamination and violation of frontage requirements.

"We gave JCI every opportunity to do the right thing and they failed to," said Roger Wilner, an attorney helping represent the city in the case.

Said Aurora Castillo of the nonprofit Mothers of East L.A.: "We still claim this as a victory, since their permit was removed,"

JCI representatives were unavailable for comment.

With a fleet of about 25 tank trucks, service trucks and other company vehicles, JCI transported hazardous waste for companies in Los Angeles and several Southeast cities. By definition, hazardous waste can explode, ignite, corrode metal and poison or damage organisms.

JCI handled wastes mainly in liquid form, contained in steel drums, said Andy Yamamoto, an attorney representing the Mothers of East L.A.

"Hopefully, this will teach JCI to clean up its act," said Yamamoto. "JCI has been a repeat offender when it comes to environmental regulations in the state of California."

According to documents submitted in the case:

* In 1992, the California Regional Water Quality Control Board fined JCI--then J.C. Inc. Liquid Waste Disposal--$32,000 for soil contamination and potential threats to ground water at a former South El Monte hazardous-waste facility it operated before it opened its Vernon facility.

* In 1984, the company was charged with two criminal violations involving one of its vacuum trailers that was left abandoned on a Vernon city street. An investigation revealed that the trailer, which contained paint stripper, had sat unattended on a public street for eight days.

* In 1982, a company trailer carrying 11,380 pounds of coal tar slurry reportedly spilled 84 pounds of the sludge onto Azusa Avenue in South El Monte.

According to Carlos Porras, Southern California director of the Venice-based Citizens for a Better Environment, Vernon has been documented as the dirtiest ZIP code in the state. The city is home to steel and chemical manufacturers and distributors and the West Coast's largest lead battery recycler.

An investigation by the California Public Interest Research Group revealed that the city annually emits, processes or stores 27 million pounds of toxics--more than three times as much as the city of Los Angeles.

With 150 residents, Vernon has the smallest residential population of any incorporated city in the state. Its daytime population swells to about 50,000.

For the Record Los Angeles Times Sunday August 21, 1994 Home Edition City Times Page 10 Zones Desk 1 inches; 35 words Type of Material: Correction JCI Environmental Services--A story in the Aug. 7 edition of City Times incorrectly stated the type of conditional use permit granted to JCI Environmental Services Inc. by the Vernon City Council in 1992. The permit was to operate a truck terminal.
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