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Santa Clarita / Antelope Valley : Environmentalists Sue to Stop Toxic Waste Burning

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

A group of environmentalists has filed a lawsuit demanding that a cement company stop burning hazardous wastes, claiming that burning the materials violates federal law and poses a health danger for nearby residents.

National Cement Co. of California already has been ordered by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to stop burning the materials at its facility near Lebec as of Aug. 25.

But the company will try Aug. 24 in the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco to delay the EPA’s ruling until an appeal can be heard. The lawsuit is intended “as a backup” to the EPA order, said Lyle Talbot, a member of the Desert Citizens Against Pollution.

He said the lawsuit, filed Friday in U.S. District Court in Los Angeles, seeks an injunction to halt the hazardous materials burning. No hearing date on the request has been set.

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“It’s not to shut down big business, but for the people who prepare the witch’s brew and feed it to the kiln,” he said. “They can continue to make cement the old-fashioned way.”

The company burns spent hazardous solvents mixed with petroleum in a kiln to generate the heat necessary to manufacture cement.

Don Unmacht, president of National Cement, called the lawsuit “frivolous” and said he doubts it will have any impact on the company’s battle to continue burning the materials.

The lawsuit asks that National Cement be required to pay more than $27 million in government fines for allegedly burning hazardous materials illegally since August, 1991. Talbot said several of the group’s members who live downwind of the company’s kiln have experienced nosebleeds, headaches, respiratory problems and other ailments.

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But Unmacht said many of his employees live in the same area and “they don’t report those symptoms.”

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The long-running dispute over the burning also involves the Tejon Ranch Co., owner of the land where the kiln is located. Tejon Ranch officials said they are aware of the burning, but that they are not participants in its supervision and direction. Tejon Ranch is about 30% owned by Times Mirror Co., publisher of The Los Angeles Times.

National Cement has the only operating commercial waste incinerator in California, according to the EPA.

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Unmacht said about 40% of the mixture currently burned is hazardous waste. He said the company will use an all-petroleum mixture if the order to stop hazardous materials burning is upheld, but eight employees with Systech Environmental Corp., which processes chemicals at the kiln site, would be laid off.


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