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Call for Action on Hazardous Waste

August 10, 1989

While (Long Beach) City Auditor Robert Fronke is to be commended for his evaluation of the city's hazardous waste materials operations (Times, Aug. 5), it is important for the public to be made aware of the reasons for any inadequacies attributed to the city Department of Health and Human Services.

First, until this budget year, the Department of Public Health has received funding from the council for only one full-time staff person to manage its hazardous waste materials operations. (The remainder of the duties were to be assumed by the Fire Department.) This year, the department received approval for three additional staff.

Second, although the council passed legislation to require the inspection of underground tanks, it did not appropriate funds for inspectors. Moreover, inspections are costly--these large tanks must be dug up, inspected, replaced and/or repaired (at a cost of between $50,000 and $100,000 per tank)--making it unlikely that small businesses will voluntarily step forward to speed up the process.

Third, inspection of leaking underground tanks barely scratches the surface of the magnitude of problems taking place in our city boundaries concerning the handling and disposal of hazardous waste materials. Our sewers, bays, flood control (channels) and alleys are more and more frequently the dumping grounds for both industrial and household hazardous waste.

The city not only needs to expend funds on monitoring and enforcement efforts (which it should be able to recoup through aggressive prosecution in the courts), but must grapple with how it can provide education to both businesses and households on how and where to safely dispose of hazardous materials in a city where over 400,000 people live and work.

The news account of the audit did not indicate suggestions to improve the city's monitoring and enforcement efforts. Perhaps two suggestions are in order: 1) the city prosecutor's office establish an environmental enforcement unit which can investigate and prosecute those who illegally dispose of hazardous waste materials in the city; and, 2) the City Council approve an increase in city business license fees for those businesses that handle, produce, store, dispose of and/or transport hazardous waste materials in Long Beach. These fees would fund the additional staff which should have been in place four years ago.

GERRIE SCHIPSKE

Long Beach

Schipske chairs the Board of Health and Human Services, Long Beach.

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