The Environmental Protection Agency has taken over a $600,000-a-year cleanup of contaminated seepage from the Operating Industries Inc. landfill in Monterey Park after the firm ran out of money and could not continue daily hauling of liquid waste, state and federal officials said.
The company's decision to end the waste hauling operation Sept. 27 has prompted a dispute with state and federal officials.
Lisa Trankley, a deputy attorney general, said a preliminary injunction issued in September in Los Angeles Superior Court directing the firm to control contamination at the landfill also calls for the firm to continue paying for daily removal of liquid waste. She said state officials are considering whether to file contempt charges against the firm.
A lawyer for Operating Industries, however, said the temporary injunction only required the firm to pay for the hauling as long as it could afford to, and that in the event that the firm ran out of money, all it was required to do was notify state officials. Daniel K. Spradlin, a Santa Ana lawyer representing the firm, said the company complied with that requirement.
Since early October the EPA has paid a private contractor to haul an estimated 10,000 gallons per day of hazardous waste water or leachate from the dump, at a cost of $50,000 a month. The leachate results from the decomposition of wastes in the dump.
May Try to Recover Costs
Alexis Strauss, chief of the EPA's enforcement section in San Francisco, said the EPA may file a lawsuit against Operating Industries to recover the costs of the waste hauling, as well as the estimated $5-million cost of a two-year study to assess the level of contamination at the site. At a Montebello City Council meeting Monday, Strauss accused the firm of "abandoning its responsibilities" for daily hauling of liquid waste. The meeting was held to answer residents' questions about the neighboring landfill, and no official actions were taken.
"At some point down the line we (EPA) will probably try to recover our expenses from OI (Operating Industries), but I don't know whether OI will be a viable corporation at that time," she said later in a telephone interview.
"Nobody's abandoning their responsibilities," Spradlin replied, adding that the firm would stay in business. "OI would be paying for the trucking of wastes right now if the EPA would get off its duff."
Spradlin said the firm has been trying to sell 45 acres located north of the Pomona Freeway for $9 million to pay for continued cleanup of the contaminated landfill, which he said is confined to 135 acres located south of the freeway. A would-be buyer backed out of the sale in August, however, after the EPA designated the entire 190-acre parcel as a hazardous waste site, Spradlin said.
While Spradlin asserts that the 45-acre parcel north of the freeway is uncontaminated and separate from the landfill, EPA officials say both parcels may have been used for dumping. As a result, all 190 acres may be contaminated, said EPA spokesman Terry Wilson. He added that EPA officials will not know for sure how much of the land is contaminated until a two-year study begun in July is completed.
Taking Air, Gas Samples
The EPA study includes sampling of gas and air at the landfill and stabilizing landfill slopes preventing additional movement of contaminants. In addition to contaminated liquid waste, the landfill also produces potentially explosive methane gas, officials have said. After the EPA study is complete, the federal agency has said it will spend millions of dollars to clean up the landfill, which is on both state and federal Superfund lists of hazardous waste sites.
Monterey Park residents have complained about foul odors coming from the dump since 1978. The landfill stopped accepting liquid wastes in 1983 and solid wastes the following year, Spradlin said.
OI officials sent a telegram to state officials in late September saying the company was unable to continue the leachate hauling operation because "they were running out of money," said Angelo Bellomo, chief of the state Department of Health Services' toxic control division in Southern California.
Bellomo said that on the weekend of Oct. 5, the state hired a contractor to haul waste that had accumulated at the landfill for approximately a week. (After that, the federal government assumed responsibilty for the waste.) Bellomo said the landfill is equipped to store more than 100,000 gallons of contaminated liquid waste, but that "nobody feels comfortable with having the tanks all filled up."
Municipal officials said they were glad EPA stepped in to continue maintaining the landfill.
"They're not letting anything slide, which makes me feel real comfortable," said Montebello City Administrator Joseph Goeden, whose city borders the landfill.