Chemical Waste Management Inc., owner of one of two major hazardous waste dumps serving Southern California, agreed Tuesday to pay $4 million in penalties and corrective work for violating federal environmental safety laws at its Kettleman Hills dump.
The settlement, reached after five months of negotiations with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the state Department of Health Services, was $3 million less than proposed last June, when the EPA charged the dump with 129 violations of environmental safety laws.
At the time, EPA regional administrator Judith E. Ayres accused the dump of repeated and flagrant violations of the law and said they would not be tolerated. The EPA said it would seek $7.36 million in penalties. The charges were made after an intensive investigation by the EPA's Denver-based National Enforcement Investigation Center.
On Tuesday, Ayres said that the dump had made "excellent progress" in complying with the law and that the $4-million settlement is still "one of the largest penalties in the country."
'New Era of Compliance'
"The company's willingness to incur additional costs to improve its facility (is) an indication that Chemical Waste Management intends to put these violations in the past and move into a new era of compliance and cooperation with federal and state regulatory agencies," Ayres said.
The dump, situated in the western San Joaquin Valley in Kings County, had been charged with violating both the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act and the Toxic Substances Control Act. Among other things, the dump was accused of mixing incompatible wastes in surface ponds, putting liquid hazardous wastes in landfills after the practice was prohibited, failing for three years to follow a plan for chemically analyzing incoming wastes and failing to monitor ground water for toxic contamination.
Under terms of the settlement announced Tuesday, the company will pay $2.1 million to the EPA, $1.1 million to the state Department of Health Services over a 10-year period for its costs in monitoring the dump's compliance with environmental laws, and $800,000 for other costs, including the double-lining of liquid hazardous waste ponds and landfill areas.
'Commend the EPA'
David B. Roe, senior attorney with the private Environmental Defense Fund, which issued a scathing report last June charging the government with inaction, said Tuesday, "I commend the EPA for following through."
He praised the company's payment of $1.1 million to cover the state's cost of monitoring compliance by the dump. "Putting the enforcement dollars to work for better monitoring makes a lot of sense. I wonder why this hasn't been done with more of the major hazardous waste dumps, both here and in other states," Roe said.
"The key point," Roe said, "is that Kettleman is not unique. It's the first one we've put under this special spotlight. The obvious next places to look are Casmalia and Benicia, the other big hazardous waste dumps in California."
Last week, the state Health Services Department directed owners of the dump at Casmalia, eight miles southwest of Santa Maria, to stop accepting virtually all liquid hazardous waste by Dec. 21 unless it could complete various environmental safeguards by that date.