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Proposal for 2nd Waste Facility in Vernon Rekindles Criticism

July 21, 1988|JAMES M. GOMEZ | Times Staff Writer

VERNON — There is an acronym describing the strong opposition to two proposed hazardous-waste disposal facilities in this city.

"They call us NIMBYs. That's for 'Not In My Back Yard,' " said Martha A. Molina-Aviles, an aide to Assemblywoman Lucille Roybal-Allard (D-Los Angeles).

Last week, she and more than 100 local politicians, community leaders and environmental activists turned out for a hearing by state health officials on a proposed plant to treat hazardous chemicals. More than a dozen spoke out against the plant, the second such facility in a year to seek an operating license here.

State Department of Health Services and Vernon officials have tentatively approved a treatment plant at the site of an abandoned warehouse complex on East Slauson and Boyle avenues. Chem-Clear Inc.--which operates disposal facilities for hazardous wastes in Baltimore, Chicago, Cleveland and Chester, Pa.--would build the plant.

The company would process up to 60,000 gallons of cyanide, hexavalent chromium and other hazardous materials daily for eventual disposal into area landfills or the county sewer system.

Despite repeated assurances by Chem-Clear officials that the plant "would do nothing to endanger the environment or the public," those who oppose the proposed facility complain that the site is too close to schools, houses and hospitals.

"We have had to bear enough negative projects," said Molina-Aviles.

Many community leaders have grown tired of the poor, mostly Latino, communities being "dumped on" by businesses that are not allowed to locate in wealthier areas, Bell City Councilman George Cole said at the public hearing in Bell.

No 'Danger to Community'

Chem-Clear has not proved that the Vernon project "is environmentally sound and can be operated without danger to the community," said Robert Morales, an aide to state Sen. Art Torres (D-Los Angeles).

They also criticized health services officials for not requiring an environmental impact report before issuing a draft permit to Chem-Clear.

"A hazardous-waste facility has once again been approved without adequate notification to residents in surrounding communities and without giving the community its due benefit of an environmental impact report," Roybal-Allard said.

Six months ago, politicians joined residents and community leaders to oppose an incinerator for hazardous wastes two miles north, on Bandini Boulevard.

Prompted by petitions and often-emotional testimony against the $29.9-million incinerator, health services officials two weeks ago ordered California Thermal Treatment Services to provide an environmental impact report before receiving final approval to build the facility. The incinerator would burn solvents, industrial liquids and infectious debris from hospitals.

At last week's Bell public hearing on the new proposal, several community leaders and local politicians also said Vernon and health services officials failed to investigate Chem-Clear thoroughly before giving tentative approval.

Chem-Clear Cited

As recently as November, according to a Greenpeace spokesman and Roybal-Allard, Chem-Clear was cited for improper maintenance of buildings and equipment at its Chester plant near Philadelphia.

But a spokesman for the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Resources said the plant has had no serious violations for at least a year. "We have no problems with them," said the spokesman, H. Hugh Hinzman.

Other violations that date back to early 1981 include "not taking immediate action to . . . contain or dispose of a very large amount of . . . contaminated soil"; not labeling storage tanks for hazardous wastes, and allowing "numerous chemical spills," according to documents from the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Resources.

Inspectors noted that about 350,000 pounds of chemicals had been spilled in 1981-83 and that employees had not been trained adequately.

"It's digging up old skeletons," Hinzman said. "If they cleared up the problem, I don't see where (past violations) would come into play."

City and state officials acknowledge that they tentatively approved the facility without knowing of the past violations.

"I was not aware of the documentation," said John A. Hinton, chief of the state Department of Health Services unit that issues permits to such facilities. "We'll have a close look at it, and, if necessary, contact Pennsylvania."

Victor H. Vaits, Vernon's director of community services, who last year ruled that the proposed hazardous-waste facility would not affect the surrounding environment, said city officials may have to reexamine their favorable rating.

"If we had information that an operation is being conducted by an irresponsible company, we would be taking that into consideration," Vaits said.

Chem-Clear official Martin Smith, who would become general manager of the Vernon plant, said the company responded promptly to concerns of state inspectors and explained or corrected any violations cited at the Chester plant.

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