HUNTINGTON PARK — A proposal to build a plant to treat hazardous waste less than a block from homes and Huntington Park High School is expected to draw strong opposition during a public hearing Tuesday night at the school.
The state Department of Health Services and the Environmental Protection Agency are proposing to issue permits to Chem-Clear Inc. that would allow the firm to treat daily up to 120,000 gallons of hazardous industrial waste.
After the hearing, state and federal officials will decide whether to issue the permit or to require that changes be made in the operation of the proposed plant.
The plant would be built in an abandoned factory at Slauson and Boyle avenues in heavily industrial Vernon.
The site is on Huntington Park's northern border, a stone's throw from the school and homes. Residents, students, state legislators and even the Los Angeles Board of Education have opposed the plant since the proposal came under public scrutiny about two years ago.
Industrial wastes, including hexavalent chromium, acids and other hazardous chemicals from Los Angeles area factories, would be hauled to the facility by tanker on freeways and city streets. Water would be separated from the materials and disposed of by sewer. Sludge containing hazardous metals and other materials would be hauled to a landfill in Utah.
Huntington Park High health teacher Richard Loya is one of the plan's most vocal foes. He has taught his students about the potential dangers of the facility.
"As a teacher, I have to be concerned about the safety of my kids, and this is adding extra risk," Loya said. "Do we need that added risk in this area, especially right across the street from the school?"
But a spokesman for Chem-Clear, which is owned by a subsidiary of Union Pacific Railroad, said the plant would enable area factories to dispose of their waste safely, rather than store it in leaky barrels or dumping the waste illegally.
"There's a need for a facility like this, to get this stuff, deal with it and get it out of the community," Chem-Clear spokesman Xavier Hermosillo said.
A study by a private firm assessing the health risks the plant would pose has been completed since the last public hearing was held in July, 1988.
The study, sure to be the focus of Tuesday night's hearing, indicates that plant emissions would not pose a substantial risk.
The plant would not incinerate wastes but would emit minute amounts of hazardous chemicals during processing. Depending on the waste treated, those emissions could include tiny amounts of such chemicals as benzene, a carcinogen.
The study indicated that such emissions would cause, at most, fewer than one additional case of cancer per million people--well within the range considered acceptable by state health officials.
"We don't feel that anyone would be at risk from breathing the air," said Florence Pearson, senior hazardous materials specialist for the state Department of Health Services.
But the study indicated that a spill at the facility or by a truck hauling hazardous waste could cause injuries. One scenario cited by the study would be a spill from a 25,000-gallon drum containing waste that is 18% hydrochloric acid, the maximum concentration of hydrochloric acid that would be allowed in waste processed at the facility. Dikes would contain the spill but vapors would escape into the air.
Such a spill is an extremely unlikely, worst-case scenario, the study said.
"Any individual located in the immediate vicinity of or directly downwind and close to the accident site would be likely to suffer serious adverse health effects," the study said.
Those effects could include burns to the nose, throat, lungs and skin, and even death. In such a spill, vapors could reach the school, the study said.
But Pearson, the state specialist on hazardous materials, said: "There are a tremendous number of safeguards that are built into the process that would prevent this from happening."
Up to 8,000 gallons of flammable waste would be stored at the site in a special room designed to keep a fire from spreading, the report said. The study cited many variables and did not predict what sort of health risks would result from toxic smoke produced from such a fire.
Hermosillo, the Chem-Clear spokesman, said the firm has made some concessions because of public concern. For example, Chem-Clear dropped plans to treat cyanide waste, although the proposed permit would allow cyanide waste to be stored at the facility before being transported to the Utah landfill.
But those concessions have not yet won over foes such as Assemblywoman Lucille Roybal-Allard (D-Los Angeles), who are concerned about the proliferation of such plants in populated areas.
"I'm still not convinced that it's not going to pose some danger to the existing school that's right across the street," she said.
The hearing begins at 7 p.m. Tuesday at the Huntington Park High Auditorium, 6020 Miles Ave., Huntington Park.