State Senate Committee Moves to Allow Toxic Waste In County Dumps

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Thanks, Ma: Toxic waste from old cars is still hunky dory in California
The California Senate's Environmental Quality Committee today unanimously approved a bill that would block environmental officials from preventing 700,000 tons of toxic waste from being dumped into county landfills each year.

As reported in SF Weekly, the state Department of Toxic Substances Control last fall proposed rules that would end a 20-year-old policy of allowing residue from automobile recycling plants to be dumped in county landfills. Under rules proposed by state regulators, the toxic material would have to be disposed of in  expensive, specially-lined landfills created to hold hazardous materials.

Under the current policy, automobile shredders have been allowed to mix the waste -- which contains mercury, lead, PCBs, arsenic and other contaminants -- alongside ordinary household garbage, as long as it was covered with a cement-like coating designed to keep poisons from seeping into groundwater.

But studies by researchers in Arizona and Australia, as well as a 2002 report by a state toxic regulators, suggest the coating does not stop toxins from seeping into landfills. Scientific studies obtained by SF Weekly as the result of a public records request, meanwhile, indicate that California shredder waste leached more toxins than is considered safe under state environmental regulations.

Last fall, when state toxic regulators proposed halting the ineffective coating policy, recyclers such as Schnitzer steel, which has a large shredding plant in Oakland, complained that they would not be able to stay in business if they had to pay the haz-mat landfill fees.
 
In February, State Senator Lou Correa (D-Santa Ana) introduced an industry-backed bill that would override the proposed toxic rules, so that recyclers could continue disposing the waste in ordinary landfills.

The bill would also create a "working group," made up of industry representatives and state officials, to determine if shredder waste is hazardous. The group is supposed to issue a report 20 months from now. Until then, the bill would prohibit regulators "from altering the current regulatory status quo."

Given that this waste contains toxins proven to cause nervous disorders, cancers, and other disease, and that state toxic regulators and university scientists have determined that these toxins can leach into landfills under the current policy, the "working group" would seem to have no purpose other than to fend off state regulation.
 
In that spirit, the the committee hearing's public comment period was dominated by recycling industry representatives, who said the bill would help guarantee their economic survival.
At press time the Senate had not posted a date for a full vote on the bill, nor had committee staff returned a call requesting the bill's schedule.


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