CARSON — A proposal to build California's first commercial incinerator for disposal of a broad range of hazardous wastes could be thwarted by a City Council decision this week to prepare an ordinance requiring city approval of the controversial facility.
Before about 100 residents opposed to the facility, the council unanimously approved writing an urgency ordinance that, in effect, will prohibit Carson's Stauffer Chemical Co. from opening a hazardous-waste incinerator unless it first obtains a city permit.
Such a permit could be denied--and Stauffer's plans scrapped--if Carson officials find that the proposed incinerator presents such problems as land-use conflicts, safety hazards or adverse environmental effects.
"I believe this council joins me in opposing any activity that creates pollution in this city," said Councilman Thomas Mills at the Monday night meeting. "This ordinance will . . . give us the legal tools to stand up and fight that."
At the city attorney's suggestion, Mills and other officials declined to comment this week on the prospects for approval of a Stauffer permit until the matter is officially considered by the council.
However, officials' consistent denunciation of the project since it became public about three weeks ago indicates that Stauffer would have a tough time getting its plan approved.
In fact, Mayor Kay Calas sent a letter to state and federal legislators asking for their help in opposing the project.
Under EPA Review
Stauffer's application for an environmental permit to operate the proposed incinerator has been under review by the federal Environmental Protection Agency and the state Department of Health Services since August, 1984. Officials from both agencies have said they expect to permit operation of the incinerator by late summer.
But in response to public outcry--which frustrated efforts by the EPA on March 25 to hold an informational meeting in Carson--city officials began expediting the proposed zoning ordinance, which was first discussed in February.
The proposed ordinance would require all industries established in Carson before 1968 to obtain a city permit before expanding or changing the use of their operations. Such industries now are regulated by more lenient county permits dating back before Carson's 1968 incorporation.
The Stauffer plant, at 20720 S. Wilmington Ave., has been in Carson for about 60 years. It currently recycles spent sulfuric acid from oil refineries and chemical companies.
If the ordinance is passed as expected at the council's meeting on April 21, it will be effective for a minimum of 45 days. During that time, the city would probably extend the urgency measure while it considered permanent zoning ordinance changes that would require the permits.
Stauffer would be required as part of a city permit application to commission an extensive environmental impact report, said Patricia Nemeth, community development director. Federal regulations do not require an environmental report, and state officials have said they are still assessing whether such a report is needed.
Despite the city's decision, Stauffer will continue pursuing its plan to operate the incinerator, spokeswoman Betsy Russo said in an interview this week. But she acknowledged that the company is uncertain about the effect of the city's decision.
"We are going to move forward, and we are going to work closely with the city of Carson," Russo maintained. "We feel we have a good proposal."
The incinerator, which would be the fifth in the nation approved by the EPA, would burn 50,000 gallons a day of mostly liquid hazardous waste at more than 1,800 degrees Fahrenheit. The incinerator would be adapted, at an estimated cost of $8 million, from a furnace that Stauffer currently uses for recycling its spent sulfuric acid.
The incinerator would generate gas and vapors that would be filtered through an air-pollution control device, leaving behind a cake of hazardous residue estimated at less than 1% of the volume of the original liquid waste.
Burn Hazardous Wastes
Stauffer would be permitted to burn industry-generated hazardous wastes ranging from contaminated gasoline to such toxic chemicals as benzene, a suspected carcinogen, and carbon tetrachloride, which is highly toxic if inhaled in large concentrations.
State and federal officials--who a year ago supervised preliminary tests of the incinerator, which they described as very successful--had hailed the incinerator as one of the first steps away from California's dependence on landfill disposal of hazardous wastes.