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The Sewage Is Not for Dumping

June 24, 1989

For years, regulatory agencies and the courts have prodded the city of Los Angeles toward full secondary treatment of the sewage it dumps into Santa Monica Bay. As a result, the city has a massive sewage disposal modernization program under way and will achieve full secondary treatment of its effluent by 1998. Now, the County Sanitation Districts of Los Angeles County are fighting the same losing battle that the city waged for so long.

The districts have been seeking from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency a waiver--the sort the city has worked under--to exempt about half its effluent from the secondary treatment level required by the Clean Water Act.

The county districts have used a two-pronged argument in seeking partial exemption from the federal law. They claim that it would be more effective to work for source reduction--to get industry and other sewage customers to keep toxic metals and other harmful effluent material from getting into the sewage system in the first place. But then, the districts claim it is important they continue to expel large amounts of solid matter from their Palos Verdes Peninsula outfall into the ocean because that continues to keep a blanket on top of DDT deposits dumped there back in the 1950s and 1960s. If the districts are required to provide a more refined level of treatment of the sewage, there will not be so much solid matter to spew onto the DDT dumps.

The DDT claim might make some sense, says Rep. Mel Levine (D-Santa Monica), except for the level of toxic metals, pesticides and other materials contained in the stuff that is being poured on top of the DDT. The waiver also has been opposed by state Sen. Herschel Rosenthal (D-Los Angeles), whose resolution asking the EPA to reject it has been approved by both houses of the Legislature.

Actually, the districts should be working toward both secondary treatment of the sewage and reduction of chemicals and metals at the source. There is a problem in disposing of the dry sludge that is left over from the secondary treatment process. But the County Sanitation Districts are not the first to have to cope with that matter. Better to deal with it on the level than just to dump it into the ocean.

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