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Protesters blast state toxics department's handling of hazardous waste

October 09, 2013|By Melanie Mason and Jessica Garrison

SACRAMENTO -- About 100 demonstrators from across the state rallied in Sacramento on Wednesday to protest the state Department of Toxic Substances Control’s handling of hazardous waste in their communities.

Complaining that California was “in bed with polluters,” protesters set up an air mattress in front of the department's headquarters and decorated it with pictures of Gov. Jerry Brown and department chief Debbie Raphael, as well as logos of companies such as Chevron and Exide and fake dollar bills.

“The purpose of this rally is to bring together communities impacted by DTSC, to ask DTSC for some really significant reforms to its permitting programs, its cleanup programs, its enforcement actions,” said Ingrid Bostrom, an attorney with the Center on Race, Poverty and the Environment, the advocacy group that organized the demonstration.

Department officials declined to comment on the protest. But top department leaders, including Brian Johnson, the deputy director for Hazardous Waste Management, and Rizghar Gazi, head of permitting, met with protesters on the street to discuss their issues, officials said.

Attendees presented them with a list of demands, including a call to increase enforcement and fines at facilities that pollute.

The rally came a day after top environmental regulators were publicly castigated by state lawmakers at a community meeting in Los Angeles about Exide, a Vernon battery recycler whose emissions have been deemed a health risk to hundreds of thousands of people. Assembly Speaker John Perez (D-Los Angeles) told officials from the Air Quality Management District and the Department of Toxic Substances Control that they had let the community down.

Many protesters wore green shirts and waved green flags as they chanted calls for justice and action in Spanish and in English. Some held signs identifying California cities that they said had been hurt by contamination, including Kettleman City, Bakersfield and Shafter.

Henry Clark, of Richmond, said his city has had “one problem after another” with contaminated sites, such as a plot of land in Richmond where a pharmaceutical company and the University of California illegally disposed of contaminated waste from 1998 to 2004.

This type of pollution has "been going on for years and years,” said Clark, the executive director of the West County Toxics Coalition. “Instead of really cracking down, DTSC has just been going along with polluters.”


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