LONG BEACH — An understaffed and poorly managed city toxic waste inspection team has failed to identify hundreds of businesses that may produce hazardous waste, and in 100 cases has not checked to make sure violations were corrected, the city auditor has found.
In a report released last week, City Auditor Robert E. Fronke estimated that the number of local toxic waste producers--including auto and print shops, dry cleaners and chemical-plating companies--could be twice the 513 now licensed by the city.
He also found that required annual inspections to ensure that poisonous materials are handled, stored and disposed of properly had been done for only about half the licensees.
Some Go Almost 4 Years
In about 30 cases, businesses were last inspected before mid-1983 and 30% of all licensees had not been checked for at least 2 1/2 years, said the report, which surveyed a period ending Dec. 31.
In addition, when problems were found, there was no follow-up inspection in more than 100 cases that represent about 20% of all licensees, the report said.
The violations that were not pursued did not appear to be serious, Fronke said in an interview. "We found no horror stories," he said.
Assistant Auditor Gary Burroughs, who was more familiar with audit details, said, "My perception is that this is a management problem, not a public health problem."
The Health Department, citing a 1985 city attorney's opinion, said inspection records were confidential and it would not allow The Times to inspect them.
Don Cillay, city director of environmental health, said Fronke had not sent his office a list of the 100 violators whose compliance purportedly went unchecked, so he could not say how serious the problems were. Nor has he asked for such a list, Cillay said.
But Cillay said that, as a general rule, inspectors require serious problems--those that create a fire hazard or could cause injury--to be corrected immediately.
Cillay acknowledged that the toxic waste team apparently had not done yearly inspections as required. But he said improvement has been made within the last two months with the hiring of a new program manager, assignment of a third toxics inspector, and implementation of weekly and monthly inspection quotas.
The new manager is required to use a computer program to make sure audits and follow-ups are performed on schedule, Cillay said.
"Before, it was basically left up to people in the field to more or less monitor themselves, and it didn't work out," he said.
A goal of the toxics team, which was formed almost five years ago, is to inspect all licensed businesses this year, Cillay said.
However, Health Department officials have discussed changing the policy to conform with that of Los Angeles County, so licensees would be inspected only every two years, he said.
In response to the audit, the Health Department is reviewing a long list of businesses similar to those currently licensed that the auditor's staff gleaned from the local telephone book.
Review for Missed Billing
In addition, health officials are reviewing their records to find out why 200 businesses inspected by the toxics team were not billed or licensed, which the auditor said has resulted in a loss of more than $20,000 a year in city revenue.
Some of those businesses might not have produced toxic waste and therefore should not have been billed, Cillay said. Others may have produced less than 50 pounds of waste a year, which until 1985 would have exempted them from licensing fees, he said.
The City Council, which received the auditor's report last week, referred it to the city manager for analysis and to the council's Public Safety Committee for discussion.