George J. Smith may be one of the few corporate environmental managers in Orange County who can look ahead to next year with equanimity. His company, an Anaheim-based computer circuit board manufacturer called Aeroscientific, has a state-of-the-art waste treatment system, and top management made a strong commitment to environmental protection several years ago.
The wave of new rules on air and water pollution, hazardous waste disposal, garbage recycling and other environmental issues that will be implemented during the year ahead therefore shouldn't cause any severe disruptions for Smith and his firm. But the same cannot be said for many other Orange County businesses.
1990, in fact, could go down as the year that Southland companies really changed the way they think about environmental protection. The regulations that come into effect in 1990, combined with the establishment of specific targets for even more stringent pollution-reduction measures that will kick in later in the decade, will make it painfully clear that Band-Aid solutions are no longer a practical option.
"Band-Aids have heavy operations and maintenance costs," noted Douglas K. Garfield, an associate in the Orange County office of Dames & Moore, a large construction and engineering company that is experiencing huge growth in its environmental consulting business. "You can say, 'What do I need to do to respond to these specific requirements?' Or you can step back and start to look at everything, all your processes, in light of what is likely to occur."
Clearly, what is likely to occur over the course of the next decade is a steady tightening of the regulatory vise which will severely limit the use of many common industrial chemicals and require substantial new capital investments in pollution control for companies ranging from large aerospace concerns to the neighborhood auto body shop.
And what is a certain to occur in 1990 is a series of local, state, and federal regulations which will:
* Bar the disposal of untreated hazardous wastes on land.
* Require companies to catalogue emissions into the air of even small amounts of toxic chemicals, and then, in conjunction with regulatory agencies, assess the risk they pose.
* Limit the ability of companies to install facilities which contribute to air pollution without first reducing pollution at existing facilities.
* Further restrict the use of certain so-called "volatile organic chemicals"--commonly used in paints and solvents--and of the notorious ozone-depleting chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs).
* Establish new rules for the proper handling of medical wastes.
* Mandate that much of the regular trash produced by businesses and residences be recycled.
The impact of these measures on business is far from uniform, hitting some small manufacturing firms in businesses such as metal plating and painting very hard while leaving some larger, cleaner industries relatively unscathed. But few will escape entirely.
"I don't know that next year will be a turning point, but there will be more regulations, more restrictions, and costs are going to escalate," said Duane Jordan, an active member of the Industrial Environmental Coalition of Orange County and an environmental manager at a large local manufacturing company.
One of the most important measures to take effect in 1990 is the final phase of a state and federal prohibition on the land disposal of certain untreated hazardous substances. Known as the "land ban," the rule will require that all hazardous materials be treated even if they are being dumped in regulated hazardous waste landfills.
Many dangerous substances are already subject to the land ban, but the third phase of the rule, set for implementation on May 8, will affect a number of materials--such as heavy metal sludges--that are not acutely toxic but are produced in great volume by industries such as electronics and metal finishing.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the California Department of Health Services are now scrambling to develop treatment standards for the various affected substances. If no standards have been established by May, or if adequate treatment capacity is not available, some wastes could be exempted from the ban.
Forms of Treatment
Treatment often involves a process called "fixation," in which the waste is solidified so that it will not leak into ground water, and some of the wastes affected by the land ban can be treated relatively easily. The cost burden on some smaller firms could nonetheless be significant enough to cause serious disruptions, or even desperate and illegal solutions.
"I fear (the land ban) will lead to an increase in illegal dumping," said Robert Merryman, chief of the Environmental Health Division of the Orange County Health Care Agency.