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Finding a Better Way

August 14, 1988

Ogden Environmental Services' toxic waste incinerator is represented by project proponents as an "innovative" solution to the toxic waste treatment problem. Even opponents who raise serious questions about the safety of the Torrey Pines Mesa incinerator siting agree the technology is "sensible" if safely located. Both parties may be erroneous in assuming that the incineration process is an innovative and sensible technology.

Alternative toxic waste treatments under review and development may explain why Ogden is acting with haste to conveniently risk a play with fire near a densely populated area. The incineration process may have a temporary head start on toxic waste treatment but may soon lose this marketing advantage as safer, effective technologies gain ground and attention.

A recent article in Business Week disclosed that scientists are experimenting with a process called in situ vitrification, which "uses electricity to fuse contaminated soil into an inert, glossy mass." The process results in "destroying any organic material while dissolving inorganic substances, such as heavy metal." The waste is buried on site after cooling. The process, reported to be cost-effective, will be marketed commercially and the first portable treatment plant is expected to be on line by the end of the year.

Before committing private and public funds to long-term contracts and risking the public's health in decisions that benefit toxic waste incinerator operators, government agencies, politicians and judges should take a hard look at innovative and sensible alternatives.

WALTER A. SEYMOUR

San Diego

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