LONG BEACH — Health officials acknowledged this week that as many as 460 city businesses, from automobile garages to printing shops, could be producing hazardous waste without being licensed to handle the materials safely.
But officials don't know the exact number of unlicensed toxic waste producers because they don't have the staff or money to find out for sure, City Health Officer Rugmini Shah told the City Council's Public Safety Committee on Tuesday.
"However, field staff are working to minimize the potential of unlicensed establishments during the course of their daily routine inspections," Shah wrote in a report that accompanied her presentation.
Councilman Ray Grabinski, who heads the committee, said he is concerned that the health department is "not up to speed" with its toxic waste program. Grabinski could not say whether there is danger to the community, but the high number of potentially unlicensed businesses poses "a real concern," he said.
Estimate of Firms
Officials know that 513 businesses are licensed to generate hazardous waste. But they can only estimate the number of other firms that might also use toxic materials.
Last March, a city audit of the Health Department's environmental health program estimated the number of unlicensed local hazardous waste producers at 624.
But in a review of City Auditor Robert E. Fronke's report, health department officials found that 164 of the 624 potential hazardous waste generators were already on the department's inventory, were no longer in business or were not located within the city.
The remaining 460, which the auditor gleaned from telephone book listings, were not on any of the department's lists, health officials said. To confirm whether the firms are producing hazardous waste, inspectors would have to visit each one--and that would require an additional 1,000 hours of staff time, officials said.
Grabinski expressed concern that the city's toxic materials inspection team is not getting the funding it needs to operate adequately.
"There is no doubt we are spread thin and we are struggling" to conduct annual inspections and pursue violators, said Richard Smith, the environmental health operations officer who supervises the two-inspector staff.
Shah noted that the health department took over the hazardous waste monitoring program from Los Angeles County in July, 1985. The inventory of waste-producing firms was incomplete because a number of establishments had been exempt from fees under county policy and had to be added to the city's billing system, Shah said.
One of the problems the city's toxic materials inspectors have is that they must respond to a variety of emergency calls and perform services in addition to conducting inspections.
The program, Shah said, "is still in its infancy."
"I want Long Beach to get out of its infancy," Grabinski told her, asking Shah to let the council know what she needs to improve operations.