SACRAMENTO — Even though Gov. George Deukmejian has signed new legislation governing its disposal, a gigantic pile of illegally stored hazardous wastes in Anaheim continues to grow, along with uncertainty over what will become of it.
When her legislation was approved earlier this year, Sen. Marian Bergeson (R-Newport Beach) hoped it would end a debate over the supposed dangers--and procedures for dumping--a metal-laden dust created when junked automobiles are run through shredders to make re-usable steel.
But the problem has proven to be more complex than the law's critics or supporters expected.
The industry, which wants to dispose of the shredder wastes cheaply, will have to bear considerable expense to do so. Also, it is unlikely that any of the materials are going to be dumped in Orange County.
Meanwhile, Anaheim and Orange County officials are losing patience as the pile of shredder waste stored on the 32-acre compound of Orange County Steel Salvage--the only auto shredder in the county--has grown by some estimates to 50,000 tons.
"That shredder waste has to be removed from that property. All of it," said John Poole, code enforcement supervisor for the City of Anaheim. "I know he (owner George Adams Jr.) has had some problems, but that, basically, is his problem."
Adams, however, maintains that he has no place to take the materials--a complaint that underscores the concerns over Bergeson's legislation.
The measure, not yet fully implemented, will allow shredders to dump their dusty residue into landfills intended for ordinary household garbage. But it does not require landfill operators to accept the materials, nor does it challenge the authority of regional water-quality officials to impose special safeguards against contaminating underground water tables with the materials.
Indeed, Bergeson, trying to address concerns of environmentalists as well as the auto shredders, crafted a measure that some skeptics say will not resolve the problem.
"What are my choices?" asked Adams. "I can shut down and go out of business or I can keep going . . . . If they want to haul me to jail, let them haul me to jail."
At the heart of the dispute is the so-called shredder waste which the scrap metal industry has nicknamed "fluff." California is the only state which has labeled the material as hazardous.
But the state's approach to rival shredding-business firms has been inconsistent.
In the 20 months since state health officials began insisting that shredder waste be stored, handled and disposed of like hazardous materials, for example, some shredding firms in Los Angeles County have spent millions of dollars hauling their waste to an Indian reservation in Arizona.
Those firms complain bitterly that it is unfair for them to be facing expensive and vigorous enforcement by state and local officials, while Adams has been stockpiling a large quantity of the material in the Anaheim facility.
Although there have been fires at one of the Los Angeles County facilities that stored shredder wastes, state health officials have been hard-pressed to explain their enforcement policy. Orange County and Anaheim officials, saying they have waited for state health officials to take the initiative, agree that they have done little to enforce the law.
Anaheim took Adams to court in May, but only to force him to keep his shredder-waste stockpile lower than the 15-foot-high fence surrounding the material. Last year, Orange County environmental health officials sent the firm a "notice of violation" regarding its storage of the materials, but no county citations have been issued.
"If anything, we are guilty of not following through and taking some legal action," said Bob Merryman, Orange County's environmental health director.
But as long as the state seemed confused about what should be done, "it just wasn't logical" for the county to take the initiative in dealing with the problem, he added.
And there have been no clear signals from Sacramento, amid scientific disagreements over the "fluff" and conflicting concerns of various state agencies.
Top officials of the state Department of Health Services now say that, despite quantities of lead and other metals, shredder wastes are not as dangerous as once feared. They believe the materials can be safely dumped into landfills intended for ordinary household garbage.
These officials contend that the material's lead content, which prompted its hazardous classification in the first place, is marginally unacceptable, at best. They question whether shredder wastes should have ever been classified as hazardous.
However, state and regional water-quality officials have not been so easily convinced.
Bergeson's measure, introduced at the urging of the Orange County Board of Supervisors, permits regional water-quality agencies to determine which landfills can accept the waste materials, and preserves their authority to require special handling of it.