An environmental group opposed to a controversial proposal to burn toxic wastes in La Jolla announced plans on Thursday to file a lawsuit next week aimed at preventing the experimental incinerator from operating--at least until a thorough study of its potential health and environmental impacts is completed.
At a news conference outside the County Administration Center, members of the Environmental Health Coalition (EHC) said that they plan to file a lawsuit in Superior Court on Monday against the state of California's Department of Health Services over its issuance last month of a permit to Ogden Environmental Services Inc. permitting the burning of toxic wastes at its plant on Torrey Pines Mesa.
The lawsuit stems from the opponents' contention that the state's failure to require a full-scale environmental impact report before issuing the permit for the incinerator constituted non-compliance with the California Environmental Quality Act.
Law professor Richard Wharton, representing the EHC, noted that, under state law, an environmental impact statement is required in instances where there is substantial public controversy or disagreement among experts over a project's potential environmental impact.
Pointing out that "a lineup of experts have testified as to possible environmental damage" posed by the La Jolla plan, Wharton added: "I have never seen a more clear-cut case where an (environmental impact report) is required."
County Supervisor Susan Golding, who has joined opponents in calling for an exhaustive environmental study of the incineration plan, described the state health department's approval of the operating permit as "an outrageous and flagrant disregard for public health."
"I'm in full support of looking for methods to rid our community of toxic wastes," Golding said. "But this is a new and unproven technology . . . that requires a full study." The need for a thorough environmental review is heightened, Golding said, by the fact that the plant is located "within a heavily populated area" and within three miles of three hospitals and UC San Diego.
Ogden officials, however, claim that a complete environmental impact report--estimated to take six months to a year to complete--is unnecessary, arguing that previous tests already have confirmed the plant's safety.
"We have completed a very stringent process of testing and planning that has completely satisfied the (state health department) that public health and welfare is in no way threatened," Ogden executive vice president Brian Baxter said in a statement distributed to reporters at the environmentalists' news conference.
Using an advanced treatment technique for disposing of hazardous material, Ogden plans to burn solvents, sludges and contaminated soils at a minimum temperature of 1,350 degrees Fahrenheit, leaving only an ash that company officials contend is non-toxic.
Despite the state approval, Ogden officials still must obtain approval from the San Diego City Council before beginning test burns. Assuming there are no delays because of that process or the planned lawsuit, company officials have said that the first experimental burn could occur as early as next January.