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Vasquez Asks Supervisors to Pool Efforts Against Hazardous Waste

January 26, 1988|DAVE LESHER | Times Staff Writer

Supervisor Gaddi H. Vasquez has asked the county Board of Supervisors to create a Hazardous Materials Strike Force that would combine the resources of several county, municipal and state agencies to more efficiently target illegal polluters.

Vasquez said such a strike force is needed because the county is expecting an increase in the amount of illegally dumped hazardous waste by 1990, when federal law prohibiting disposal of untreated waste takes effect.

"More than 5,000 firms in Orange County produce, store and transport millions of tons of hazardous materials each year," Vasquez said. "While the vast majority is properly and safely handled, a small but growing amount is improperly handled or illegally dumped."

Several agencies already are involved in detecting and prosecuting hazardous-waste polluters in Orange County. But creation of a strike force would formalize a special county team to encourage the sharing of more information among agencies and reduce bureaucratic delays in responding to an incident.

"It would more efficiently use our present resources," said Deputy Dist. Atty. Diane Stavenhagen Kadletz, who specializes in prosecution of hazardous-waste polluters in Orange County.

"If you don't know who to call in another agency, then you're more reluctant to call," Kadletz said. "We would hope the same people would come to the meetings on a regular basis, maybe monthly, and they would get to know each other."

Kadletz said that such a strike force may well have an impact on difficult enforcement situations, such as at Anaheim's Orange County Steel Salvage Inc., where a fire Sunday night spread to a mound of auto shredder waste contaminated with toxic levels of lead, cadmium and PCBs, a suspected carcinogen. More than 200 hotel guests and area residents were evacuated.

The 60,000-ton mound of auto shredder waste has been accumulating for several years, despite enforcement orders, temporary shutdowns and fines from state, regional, county and city agencies.

"You would be able to respond to it at an earlier time and, hopefully, it would not be able to accumulate," Kadletz said of the situation at Orange County Steel. "We would hope to be heading off any company that accumulates so much material over a period of time."

Vasquez suggested that the team include the district attorney's office, the Sheriff-Coroner's Department, the county Fire Department, the California Highway Patrol, a representative of municipal law enforcement and the county's Health Care and Environmental Management agencies.

Each has separate, but sometimes overlapping, duties in regard to hazardous waste. The Environmental Management Agency, for example, is responsible for the county's storm drains, while the Health Care Agency regulates underground storage tanks, county officials said. The CHP has jurisdiction over the transport of waste on state roads, while fire departments monitor the storage, use and production of hazardous waste for safety violations.

Many incidents could involve three or four of those agencies, Vasquez said.

"In the case of illegal dumping, it is like putting a criminal case together," he said. "It seems imperative that the affected agencies conduct a coordinated effort."

Vasquez's proposal was scheduled to be formally presented to the Board of Supervisors next Tuesday. He asked for a 120-day period in which the agencies involved could assemble the team and prepare a report on how it would function.

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