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Toxic Dumping: Report Reveals Residents' Role : Environmental: From batteries to paint to antifreeze, L.A. County residents improperly dispose of tons of hazardous waste, according to a survey by an environmental group. Increased recycling efforts are urged.

December 15, 1991|JAMES RAINEY | TIMES STAFF WRITER

People who live in Los Angeles County dump vast quantities of toxic materials into streets, gutters and trash cans each year--waste that eventually will foul the ocean and underground deposits of drinking water--according to a report by the environmental group Heal the Bay.

The group says the study, released last week in Santa Monica, is the first attempt to quantify and dramatize the extent of the largely unseen pollution caused by disposing of everyday items such as paint and motor oil.

Current recycling efforts have been inadequate, and the public and government must turn increasingly to new solutions, such as the use of less toxic alternative products, the report says.

Scientists from the environmental group, which promotes the cleanup of Santa Monica Bay, calculated that nearly 20 million gallons of motor oil are improperly disposed of each year in Los Angeles County. That is the equivalent of nearly three spills the size of the one that blackened Alaska's Prince William Sound in 1989.

For the Record
Los Angeles Times Thursday December 19, 1991 South Bay Edition Metro Part B Page 5 Column 6 Zones Desk 2 inches; 55 words Type of Material: Correction
Waste study--A story in Sunday's South Bay edition on household hazardous waste described a study by the environmental group Heal the Bay, which found that 20 million gallons of motor oil is disposed of improperly each year in Los Angeles County. That is the equivalent of two spills the size of the one that blackened Alaska's Prince William Sound in 1989. The story gave an incorrect comparison.

The researchers also estimated that 100 million batteries are improperly dumped each year--containing 1.5 million pounds of zinc, 40,000 pounds of mercury and substantial amounts of other toxic materials.

The study found that 15 million gallons of latex paint and 7 million gallons of antifreeze are purchased locally each year. Although the researchers were unable to determine how much of the paint was improperly dumped, they concluded that consumers dump about as much antifreeze as they buy.

"If you dump something into the street, it ends up being washed into the storm drains and (then) into the ocean that we all love to swim in and enjoy as a tremendous natural resource," said Mark Gold, Heal the Bay's staff scientist. "The word has to get out that this is a serious environmental problem."

Other household toxics are shipped to landfills, where they can be absorbed into the soil and eventually leach into underground deposits of drinking water, the researchers said.

"It's a hidden problem, but it's a very serious one," said Adi Liberman, executive director of Heal the Bay.

Research scientist Roger Gorke arrived at the hazardous-waste estimates by compiling industry sales figures for the "big four" household hazardous-waste items--paint, antifreeze, motor oil and batteries. He assumed that an equal amount of most of the products is thrown away each year.

Gorke then subtracted the amount of the material used up or disposed of properly to reach the final totals.

For example, much motor oil is burned off in engines, spilled accidentally or leaked from oil pans. In Los Angeles County, that leaves about 33 million gallons of oil yearly that could be recycled. But Heal the Bay's survey found that garages and quick-lube emporiums reclaim just 13 million gallons annually, while government agencies and auto parts stores collect an additional 200,000 gallons. The remaining nearly 20 million gallons is not accounted for--with most presumably dumped down drains or into trash cans by do-it-yourselfers, the survey concludes.

Heal the Bay officials suggested several ways to decrease the flow of waste, including:

* Phasing out the most common form of antifreeze, ethylene glycol, in favor of a less toxic alternative, propylene glycol.

* Promoting the sale of latex paints over oil-based paints that contain hydrocarbons.

* Decreasing the frequency of motor-oil changes and increasing the use of rechargeable batteries.

* Opening permanent hazardous-waste recycling centers, rather than relying on the sporadic roundups organized by local governments. Roundup programs sponsored by the city and county of Los Angeles collect less than 3% of household hazardous wastes, the Heal the Bay report said.

* Offering redemption fees for recycling hazardous-waste items, just like those for aluminum cans and glass bottles.

* Taxing problem products, with the proceeds to go to increasing cleanup and recycling.

Improperly Dumped?

Everyday household products often contain harmful compounds that contaminate ground water or the ocean if they are dumped into the street or in landfills. The environmental group Heal the Bay estimated the amount of some of these products dumped improperly each year in Los Angeles County, based on the quantities sold:

Dumping Estimates

Motor oil: 20 million gallons

Alkaline batteries: 70 million

Nickel cadmium batteries: 5 to 7 million

Antifreeze: 7 million gallons

Recycling Information

For information on how to dispose of hazardous household wastes call:

In the city of Los Angeles: (213) 237-1634

In Los Angeles County: (213) 908-4286

For a recycling location for motor oil or antifreeze: (800) 553-2962

SOURCE: Heal the Bay

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