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State Drops Threat to Fine Whittier on Waste Mishap

December 25, 1988|MARY LOU FULTON | Times Staff Writer

WHITTIER — The state has dropped its threat to fine the city up to $30,000 in connection with a June mishap at a household toxic-waste roundup after city officials warned that they would refuse to hold more roundups.

The state Department of Health Services cited Whittier for failing to report to the state that a contractor hired to manage the roundup created a small toxic cloud by mixing several types of acids together. By law, the state should have been notified within 60 days.

Jim Marxen, a spokesman for the Department of Health Services, said the state decided against the fine because it might scare off other cities conducting toxic-waste roundups. In such roundups residents dispose of household chemicals such as paint thinners and insecticides. About 400 households participated in Whittier's roundup.

"We're not after the money," Marxen said. "What we're after is having them comply with the law and understand that they have violated the law. . . . The public airing of their fault was felt to be enough of a punishment."

City's Position

Michael Woods, an attorney who handled the case for Whittier, said the city was "not simply going to roll over" and take the fine. The city's position has been that any fine as a result of the accident should be paid by the contractor, Omega Recovery Services, which was paid $60,000 for the job, Woods said.

City officials also told the state that if Whittier were fined, the city would refuse to conduct any more toxic roundups, he said.

"If the city was going to end up getting slapped with a fine for its responsible effort (to hold the roundup), then why take that risk?" Woods asked.

In an out-of-court settlement of the issue, city officials agreed to:

Make presentations to other cities in the Los Angeles area about the correct way to run a household toxic-waste roundup;

Provide extra training over the next eight months to city employees involved in handling hazardous wastes.

Send the state within 60 days a detailed plan for any future hazardous-waste roundups.

Request state approval at least 60 days before any future roundup. The state normally requires only 30-days' notice from agencies who want to organize such events.

'Going to Be Watching'

"This is just as serious as when we were talking about the fine," Marxen, the health services spokesman, said of the agreement. "We're going to be watching (Whittier officials) pretty closely in the future because of their track record."

During the roundup, Dennis O'Meara of Omega Recovery Services mixed several types of potent nitric acid in a 55-gallon drum. O'Meara, who was not wearing the proper protective clothing, was treated at a hospital after his face and arms were burned.

After the citation was reported in news accounts, the city fired Tom Bayles, the assistant public services director responsible for hazardous waste disposal.

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