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Los Angeles May Join Panel Overseeing Cleanup of Up Monterey Park Landfill

October 12, 1989|DEAN MURPHY | TIMES STAFF WRITER

A Los Angeles City Council committee recommended Tuesday that the city's Department of Water and Power join an industry-run committee that is cleaning up the Operating Industries Inc. landfill in Monterey Park.

The recommendation, expected to be considered by the full council later this month, would make the department the only municipal agency on the 82-member committee. The committee was set up several years ago by companies identified by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency as "potentially responsible" for contamination at the landfill, which has been designated a federal Superfund site.

The 190-acre dump, bisected by the Pomona Freeway, opened in 1948 and accepted liquid hazardous waste as well as municipal trash until it was closed in 1984 amid complaints about odors, the accumulation of landfill gas and other environmental problems. In 1986, the dump was placed on the national priority list for cleanup under the Superfund program, which makes companies and agencies liable for the hazardous waste they generate even after they have legally disposed of it.

DWP Used Dump

The DWP allegedly dumped hazardous liquid waste at the landfill, although the department has not acknowledged liability for the pollution problem there. DWP spokeswoman Mindy Berman said the department disposed of 700,000 gallons of "water with some oil in it" from steam plants and other facilities. She said the DWP waste accounted for a fraction of the total liquid waste at the landfill, estimated at 200 million gallons.

At a hearing Tuesday before the council's Commerce, Energy and Natural Resources Committee, an attorney for the DWP said the city would face a battle with the EPA if the department does not join the so-called Operating Industries Landfill Steering Committee. The department would pay $49,250 to join the committee, with other costs through the end of December expected to total $100,000.

"The EPA has told us they will not deal with us as a separate entity," said Deputy City Atty. Roberta Zinman. "They only wish to deal with the steering committee. It appears there will be no secondary group."

In a report to the council panel, the City Administrative Office said joining the committee was financially wise because the admission fee would be less than the cost of drilling one test hole at the landfill and the related laboratory expenses. The steering committee is expected to drill two dozen monitoring wells at the landfill.

"In the long run, taking everything into consideration, it would be a lot cheaper and probably a lot more effective to join the organization than fighting on our own," said Councilwoman Joan Milke Flores, who heads the three-member council panel which unanimously approved the DWP request to join the committee.

Last year, nearly 120 companies and government agencies agreed to pay a total of $66 million to help clean up the dump, with the DWP's contribution exceeding $440,000. At that time, Daniel W. McGovern, regional administrator of the EPA, described the dump as "one of the most complex and contaminated sites in the nation."

The landfill has been plagued with problems involving the migration of landfill gas into surrounding neighborhoods, emissions of gases containing vinyl chloride and other harmful substances, and the accumulation of leachate, which is landfill water contaminated with chemicals. In May, the EPA agreed to gradually hand over the job of cleaning up and monitoring the landfill to the steering committee, which is scheduled to take full control of the job within the next few weeks.

The steering committee, through contractors and consultants, is expected to expand the system for monitoring, collecting and burning landfill gas at the dump. It has already agreed to improve irrigation and erosion control at the site and collect and haul away leachate. The group will also design and construct a plant to treat leachate at the site.

EPA officials have estimated that the cleanup cost could reach $200 million to $300 million. The City Administrative Office estimated in its report that the cleanup could total $1 billion.

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