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Toxic Waste Storage Site for Trash Separation Project Weighed

March 05, 1987|ANDREW C. REVKIN | Times Staff Writer

Los Angeles City Council members and sanitation officials are trying to decide whether the west San Fernando Valley or northeast Los Angeles will be the site of a pilot project encouraging homeowners to separate hazardous materials from other household trash.

The $637,000 project will be the first large-scale attempt in California to provide homeowners with an alternative to the improper disposal of hazardous materials--everything from pool chemicals to pesticides--said William Knapp, manager of the refuse collection division of the city Bureau of Sanitation.

"Until now, we've told people you can't put this stuff in the trash," Knapp said. "But we haven't told people what they can do with it."

Homeowners frequently discard toxic or dangerous materials as if they were ordinary garbage, Knapp said. The result can be injury to a sanitation worker or, years down the line, contamination of ground water, he said.

About 200 sanitation workers have been injured by exposure to such substances since 1980, Knapp said. Forty workers, for example, have received chemical burns and 47 have been made nauseous by noxious fumes, according to sanitation bureau statistics.

Ground water can be threatened because household garbage is generally taken to landfills that are not licensed or designed to handle paint thinner, oils, pesticides and other hazardous materials. Such materials are sometimes buried in such trash. "The accumulated buildup of these materials over many years is a concern," Knapp said. "Sooner or later, it's got to go somewhere."

The project, first approved by the City Council and the federal Environmental Protection Agency in mid-1985, has been delayed by concerns that collected hazardous materials might overburden a local storage site before they could be shipped out to a licensed hazardous waste dump, according to sanitation officials.

The $637,000 cost will be paid out of a $2-million Environmental Trust Fund set aside by the city as part of an agreement reached with the EPA in 1980 after Los Angeles was found in violation of the federal Clean Water Act, said Robert Alpern, principal sanitary engineer for the city.

The project has taken two years to develop, Knapp said, because an enormous number of regulatory agencies had to be consulted. "It took a good part of a year just to get it to where we could seriously propose it," he said.

The second year was taken up in working out details of the program, lining up the necessary permits, and offering the project to City Council members for their districts, he said.

Early in the project, temporary storage of the collected material was seen as a minor problem, said Alpern. But, as plans were completed, it was discovered that the licensed hazardous waste facilities that are to be the final destination of the material are experiencing enormous backlogs in processing the waste that is sent each day from around the region, Alpern said.

Material might have to accumulate at the temporary storage site for two weeks or more before it can be trucked to a dump, Alpern said. "That's a lot longer period of time than we'd anticipated," he said. The site will have to be an area big enough for packing the material into drums and for storing the drums, Knapp said.

The selection of the project area will depend most heavily on where the sanitation bureau can find a site for temporary storage of the hazardous trash, Knapp said.

"What we have is a program without a home," said Ellen Rabin, a spokeswoman for the Department of Public Works. She called the project a political "hot potato."

The waste collection project was originally proposed by the sanitation bureau for the Harbor area, but, because of opposition from residents, Councilwoman Joan Milke Flores turned it down, Knapp said. "They already have a lot of hazardous waste haulers and treatment facilities down there," he said. "They didn't want to add one more."

Councilman Richard Alatorre, who represents central and East Los Angeles, has been considering the project for his district, Knapp said. Knapp said it would be appropriate to put the project near downtown because it would help remove toxic materials from garbage destined to be burned in the LANCER trash-to-ash incinerator the city is trying to have built in that area.

The possibility that dangerous chemicals may be present in the smoke from such an incinerator is a major source of public opposition to the LANCER project, he said.

But Alatorre will not approve the project until the city has obtained all permits for the temporary storage site, said Al Avila, Alatorre's legislative deputy.

Avila later specified that Eagle Rock might be in the area served by the pilot project, but that the storage site would not necessarily be located there.

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