Below the steamy eastern skyline of Wilmington, at the border of Los Angeles, lies the sprawling site of the Harbor-area Texaco Inc. oil refinery.
Near Wilmington's business district, surrounded by union halls, a scattered assemblage of modest homes and several auto-wrecking yards, lies the block-long headquarters of IT Corp.'s Harbor-area trucking operations.
While their appearances are vastly different, these two industrial operations share a common distinction: Both are hazardous-waste facilities.
That distinction has recently fueled a wave of community protest in Wilmington and a subsequent flurry of concern by Los Angeles officials.
And while most of that attention has focused on three such facilities, records on file with the California Department of Health Services show that the state has current environmental permits for at least nine facilities in Wilmington and San Pedro for storage, transfer or treatment of hazardous waste.
Those Harbor-area operations are Roehl Corp., Carrasco Vacuum Truck Service, Gatx Tank Storage Terminals Corp., Western Fuel Oil Co. and Chevron USA Inc., North American Environmental Inc., Texaco Inc. and two IT Corp. facilities.
The nine operations vary from those, like Texaco, that only store and treat wastes they generate through their oil refining business, to facilities, like IT Corp, that pick up waste from numerous industries and treat it before they take it to faraway landfills. "Hazardous waste" is broadly defined in California and can involve chemicals varying from the remains of a shredded car muffler to the cancer-causing chemicals called PCBs.
That these facilities exist in industrial areas like Wilmington and San Pedro, many Harbor-area residents say, is not as surprising as the widespread lack of awareness of them.
"We haven't been told about these businesses," said Wilmington resident Eleanor Montano. "I think we should be informed. It's unfortunate for the citizens to buy properties without knowing what's on the other side of the fence. We have all these chemicals and gases right next door to us without even knowing that they are there."
Said resident Jo Ann Wysocki, president of the Harbor Coalition Against Toxic Waste, "I feel someone should have informed the community. The question is, 'Did anybody know besides the state Department of Health Services?' "
Los Angeles officials, for one, say they did not know about the Harbor-area facilities.
Both Handle PCBs
Last month, city officials said they became aware for the first time of hazardous waste operations at IT Corp.--where such activities have been conducted since 1926. After a subsequent review of the city map revealed a zoning conflict, IT was served shutdown orders for hazardous-waste operations at its Wilmington properties.
A week later, similar shutdown orders were served at North American, for a site where hazardous waste has been handled for at least the last 1 1/2 years. City officials were alerted to the facility's operations after inquiries by The Times.
Both hazardous-waste facilities were permitted to handle PCBs.
While it appears that the Harbor area's six other hazardous-waste facilities do not have similar zoning conflicts, city awareness of the operations remains limited.
"I'm not aware of any (facilities) other than IT and North American," said James Carney, chief inspector for the Los Angeles Department of Building and Safety.
Said Raymond Kellam, head of the Harbor-area Department of Building and Safety, which served shutdown orders to IT and North American, "I'm not aware of any others in this area."
Part of the problem with information and coordination, many say, is that government agencies did not quickly adjust to public concern that emerged in the early 1970s about the potential danger of hazardous waste.
The Los Angeles zoning ordinance, for example, does not yet have specific provisions for hazardous-waste facilities. Los Angeles city business licenses do not make specific reference to hazardous-waste facilities. Industrial waste permits are issued for some hazardous-waste facilities that use city sewers, but that information is not routinely circulated.
The county, which is responsible for monitoring an estimated 20,000 industries that generate hazardous waste but keep it on-site for 90 days or less, has only identified about half of those industries, according to Joseph Karbus of the county Health Services Department. The county program, which includes inspections once every two years, was not in effect until 1982.
Council Move Planned
To help give the city more information, Councilwoman Joan Milke Flores is planning a City Council motion that would require all applications for city permits to include data about whether a company is involved in hazardous-waste operations. The motion would also provide that an inspector specifically monitor Harbor-area plants and change the zoning code to permit waste facilities only in heavy industrial areas.