Probe of California agency that regulates hazardous waste is urged

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Two state senators have called for an investigation into the state agency responsible for protecting people and the environment from hazardous chemicals after a consumer group released a report Thursday criticizing the agency for failing to do its job.

Santa Monica-based Consumer Watchdog has accused the Department of Toxic Substances Control, which is responsible for managing hazardous waste, of allowing polluters to operate on expired permits for years and of neglecting to revoke the permits of companies that repeatedly flouted environmental laws. The group also charges that the department levies toothless fines and consistently fails to refer egregious cases for prosecution.

In response, Sens. Kevin de León (D-Los Angeles) and Ricardo Lara (D-Bell Gardens) have called for an investigation by the Senate Office of Oversight and Outcomes.


“I am outraged to hear reports of kids and adults having difficulty breathing, experiencing nausea and burning sinuses from chemical exposure,” De León said in a statement. “We must investigate why the DTSC isn’t enforcing our laws, which are aimed to protect the health and safety of our communities.”

Agency officials countered that the report “contains inaccuracies.” They disputed an allegation that the agency puts people into jobs for which they are unqualified. They also took issue with the suggestion that the agency had become “captive” to the businesses they were supposed to regulate.

“This is not accurate,” a spokeswoman said of the allegations in an email.

But the agency also said the consumer advocates had raised “valid issues, issues that we have known about for some time.”

“We take seriously our role in protecting the health of Californians and our environment,” Director Debbie Raphael said in a statement. “We will not shy away from identifying areas for improvement and taking any necessary actions.”

The report identified several specific examples in which it said regulators had failed to do their jobs, including the case of a chemical company in Santa Fe Springs that was allowed to operate on an expired permit for 16 years, even as the company was cited for such lapses as illegally storing hazardous waste.