Reaction ranging from caution to fear and heated opposition is pouring forth from city leaders in the San Gabriel Valley and throughout the rest of Los Angeles County in response to a countywide preliminary shopping list of 20 potential sites for a proposed county system of hazardous waste treatment plants.
The county's proposal, patterned after similar treatment systems used in Germany and Denmark for several years but never attempted on a large scale in the United States, calls for half a dozen hazardous waste treatment plants to be constructed in heavy industrial sectors scattered across the county.
The potential sites, most of them available for sale, were identified Tuesday in a report to the Board of Supervisors by county engineers as in Azusa, Irwindale, Santa Fe Springs, Carson, Vernon, Commerce, Bell, Long Beach and the San Fernando Valley. The waste planners noted in their report that the search for potential treatment sites is not over.
Trucking Waste North
Last winter the last hazardous waste dump in the county, the BKK landfill in West Covina, closed down, forcing waste generators to hire trucking companies to haul the wastes to two dump sites about 200 miles north of Los Angeles.
However, strict new federal laws, to be phased in over the next five years, will prohibit dumping of untreated hazardous wastes and liquids, forcing the county to find an alternative.
The county's plan is strongly backed by officials of the federal Environmental Protection Agency, but officials of two San Gabriel Valley cities said they fear that the county's treatment plant proposal could bring new hazards into their communities.
"This worry is very much on our minds," said Irwindale Mayor Pat Miranda. "We have gone on record supporting a trash-to-energy plant if it can be proved to meet all federal and state standards, but a hazardous waste treatment plant is another question."
Miranda said two of the county's potential sites, located "very close to each other" in the Irwindale and neighboring Azusa, are not far from the trash-to-energy plant proposed in Irwindale. The Azusa site is at Todd Avenue and the Foothill Freeway and the Irwindale site is at the end of Adelante Street east of Irwindale Avenue.
"We are all afraid of hazardous wastes because we don't really understand what it is," Miranda said. "I would be very cautious and concerned about what is involved with this proposal, because we've read enough about BKK (landfill in West Covina) and all these other problems with environmental damage."
In fact, officials of the county Department of Public Works and the Sanitation Districts noted in their report to the Board of Supervisors Tuesday that "it will take a concerted effort to convince the public and elected decision makers that modern hazardous waste treatment centers . . . are in no way like Superfund sites of the past."
550,000 Tons a Year
County officials are seeking a safe way to dispose of more than 550,000 tons of hazardous wastes that require disposal in Los Angeles County each year because the few remaining legal disposal sites have closed down or are coming under EPA scrutiny for contamination problems.
According to engineers for the county Sanitation Districts, the plants would use chemical processes and intense heat to turn liquid hazardous wastes into less hazardous dry cakes and ash. The plan then is to haul the dry residues to a remote desert site for encapsulation in a clay-lined "residuals repository," which scientists say would not leak like a conventional moist landfill.
The county Department of Public Works and the county Sanitation Districts hired a Coldwell Banker industrial real estate specialist to conduct a search of the county's industrial zones. According to their joint report, the sites selected had to include 5 to 15 acres of land near a freeway or major access road and near an adequate sewer system.
"Time and budget did not allow a comprehensive block-by-block search of the entire county," the report said. "Some locations, equally as suitable as those presented herein, may be proposed as treatment or disposal facilities in the future."
Reaction in other areas of the county also was strong:
Don Powell, Santa Fe Springs city manager, said his City Council last week voted unanimously to oppose construction of any hazardous waste treatment plant there and has sent a letter to the county expressing its opposition to the proposal, which identified five sites in the city.
"The City Council will fight it all the way," Powell said. "Our feeling in Santa Fe Springs is that we have all the hazards we want here."
Nathan Manske, director of public safety in Carson, said he is reviewing the county's proposal now and is preparing to report his recommendations to the City Council at its Oct. 21 meeting. Four potential sites were identified in that city; and in addition a fifth site is proposed in an unincorporated area just north of the city.