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Petitions Against Vernon Toxic Site Going to Governor

September 22, 1988|JAMES M. GOMEZ | Times Staff Writer

HUNTINGTON PARK — The Los Angeles Unified School District board, angry that the state has tentatively approved construction of a hazardous-waste treatment plant less than a block from Huntington Park High school, has agreed to give Gov. George Deukmejian a stack of petitions from residents who oppose the project.

Bearing more than 5,000 signatures, the petitions were turned over to the board Monday afternoon by several Huntington Park High students and teachers. For two months, they have been staging afternoon protests to block construction of the plant, proposed by the Pennsylvania-based Chem-Clear Inc., in nearby Vernon.

The plant, capable of processing up to 60,000 gallons a day of cyanide, hexavalent chromium and concentrated acids and alkalines, would be located on a 2.7-acre lot at Slauson and Boyle Avenues.

Although company officials say the health risk to residents would be small, local politicians, environmentalists and community leaders oppose the disposal plant. Two other disposal plants that will burn hazardous wastes are planned within two miles of the proposed Chem-Clear facility.

Effect of Possible Spills

Opponents of the toxic-waste projects argue that chemical spills could threaten the health of thousands of residents and force their evacuation. For example, a chlorine spill that occurred in Commerce on Labor Day caused thousands of Southeast families to leave their homes in the early-morning hours.

"We ask that you give these to the governor before my fellow classmates get hurt or worse," said Juan Estrada, student body vice president of the 3,700-student high school, which is less than 1,000 feet from the plant site.

Huntington Park High health teacher Ric Loya, borrowing from the title of the popular movie "Nightmare on Elm Street," called the project "a nightmare on Slauson Avenue."

"Chem-Clear says the risk is small," said Loya, an organizer in past student demonstrations. "We say, why add to the risk? . . . The governor needs to see these petitions right away so he'll know that kids and parents and teachers are concerned."

Assemblywoman Lucille Roybal-Allard (D-Los Angeles) joined the Huntington Park High representatives in appearing before the school board.

Neighborhood Fears

"It is extra important that members of the community feel safe, not only in their schools, but in their homes," Roybal-Allard said.

In August, the board joined other local groups in opposing the plant by unanimously passing a resolution that was sent to the governor's office.

The resolution called for the state Department of Health Services to deny final approval until a detailed environmental impact study was conducted.

The department and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency are considering whether to issue permits for the plant.

In a related matter, state health officials last week gave California Thermal Treatment Services permission to build a hazardous-waste incinerator on Bandini Boulevard in Vernon without conducting an environmental impact study. Two months earlier, the same officials had said that an environment study would be necessary.

California Thermal, however, still needs EPA approval before it can begin construction.

Rep. Matthew Martinez (D-Montebello) has called for a congressional hearing in Los Angeles to investigate the state's permit reversal. He is urging EPA officials to withhold approval until an impact report is prepared.

In a letter to EPA Regional Administrator Daniel W. McGovern, Martinez wrote: "Given the state's reluctance to conduct an EIR (environmental impact report) for the operation of a hazardous-waste incinerator in the worst clean air non-attainment area in the country, we urge you to deny (California Thermal) a permit."

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