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Take Action Now — Stop Sacramento’s 11th Hour Assault on Environmental Protection

3:37 pm in Uncategorized by Consumer Watchdog

Take ActionWe need your help! In the last week of the legislative session, polluters may be getting a big gift if last minute legislation is not amended.

Californians can look forward to hazardous waste being “left in place” instead of removed and sent to specially constructed and licensed facilities under last minute amendments to Speaker John Perez’s Assembly Bill 1330. The legislation now calls for meeting environmental targets by “reducing the disposal of hazardous waste.”

That’s like “cleaning up” Prince William Sound by letting Exxon leave oil in the Bay.

Will you help us stop this outrageous power grab by polluters by calling on your legislators for amendments today?

The toxic amendment appears to be the brain child of polluters and Department of Toxic Substances Control (DTSC) Director Debbie Raphael. The DTSC has been the subject of whistleblower and consumer complaints that it is falling down on the job, but the last minute amendments would let polluters have a pass on cleaning up their pollution. Among the beneficiaries are Boeing, Chevron, KB Homes, Lockheed Martin and Waste Management, all prolific donors in Sacramento.

No doubt major industry players from Boeing – with its radioactively contaminated Simi Valley land – to KB Homes – and their plans to build on radioactive sites next to industrial factories without adequate clean up, are rubbing their hands together. This legislation disposes of the need for disposal, saving them millions of dollars and making official what the DTSC has already been quietly sanctioning.

Waste that is not removed continues to expose the public to toxins via different pathways from breathing it in to ingesting it through food or water.

Please take a minute to weigh in with your state lawmakers and stop this power grab by polluters.


Posted by Liza Tucker, Consumer Advocate and Author of the Golden Wasteland Report. For more information on Consumer Watchdog and our Toxics Watchdog project, follow us online on Facebook and Twitter.

Lessons (Not) Learned From the Chevron Fire

2:55 pm in Uncategorized by Consumer Watchdog

Chevron Refinery Fire

On Friday, federal accident investigators told California legislators that the state’s patchwork of oil industry regulations needs a serious overhaul. The Chevron fire that produced a toxic cloud and sent 15,000 people to the hospital could have been prevented, but the system was reactive and not designed to foresee and forestall problems, said the U.S. Chemical Safety Board. Duh. The board didn’t need 18 months to come to that conclusion. But Don Holstrom, lead investigator for the board, did put his finger on one problem: the need to bump up the number, skills, and authority of refinery inspectors.

Something smells when an agency purposefully cripples its own enforcement abilities. One good example is the Department of Toxic Substances Control (DTSC). The DTSC exists to protect communities like Richmond from toxic harm. And for years, it’s done a very poor job of it.

The DTSC has broad statutory authority to sanction these giant chemical plants for toxic releases like the one that Chevron caused in its fire, but it consistently refuses. Better yet, the DTSC should play a pro-active role in preventing harm as the department is supposed to do. So, you’d think the DTSC would view having refinery inspectors on staff as a high priority—inspectors that could be given broad latitude to inspect the guts of a refinery where hazardous substances slosh around and not just its excrement. Evidently, the DTSC thinks the fewer refinery inspectors the better.

The DTSC has only two refinery inspectors for the entire state and one of them is green and in training. The DTSC used to have more. But when other inspectors from its refinery unit retired or left, the DTSC didn’t bother to replace them. Nine vacancies in the unit handing refinery inspections were the result. Two scientist positions were approved for the refinery inspection unit and then inexplicably redirected to other positions and regions.

Refinery inspections are the most complex kind and the scientists that do them sometimes take a week to complete them. These scientists know the ins and outs of dealing with refineries. The DTSC maintains that any scientist can conduct a refinery inspection, but that just isn’t true. “Anyone who says that all DTSC scientists can conduct them and are trained to do them is either lying or out of their mind,” says one DTSC career investigator.

Under the direction of Chief Deputy Director Odette Madriago positions can be cut or simply re-directed, the investigator said. On top of that, “Odette has put in place the strictest travel requirements of all CAL EPA.” The inspectors and investigators that have to travel have to fill out a lengthy document and have to get approval from their supervisor before they can go do an inspection or investigation. “These travel restrictions have allowed polluters to go unchecked and unregulated,” the investigator said.

One explanation is budgets are tight. Another is that it isn’t in the interest of someone like Ms. Madriago to regulate an industry in which she invests. She’s invested up to $100,000 in Chevron and in BP Amoco. Why regulate these refineries and sanction them millions of dollars that could affect their stock price?

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Dirty Dancing at the DTSC: Toxic Lead Coming to a Landfill Near You

2:37 pm in Uncategorized by Consumer Watchdog

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Remember those old, clunky TVs and computer monitors? The ones with Cathode Ray Tubes (CRTs) people threw out in favor of flat screens? Well, now electronics makers don’t want to recycle them.

Up until this week, California State law directed certified waste recyclers to sell leaded Cathode Ray Tube (CRT) glass from the old clunkers back to CRT makers or smelters.
But now we’re down to just one CRT maker and it’s in India. Neuro-toxic leaded glass started piling up in warehouses or got illegally dumped. So, the Department of Toxic Substances Control (DTSC) just issued an “emergency rule. Recyclers can go ahead and just take CRT glass to hazardous waste landfills located in some of the poorest, largely Latino, communities in the state.

Consumers buying TVs pay between six and ten dollars at the point of sale to fund a state program that pays recyclers to recycle. Now, we’ll be paying recyclers to dump more toxins into poor neighborhoods already suffering from high rates of pollution.

Granted, the DTSC had to do something. But this was not the right something. Exceptions to rules tend to become permanent. And can be abused. This rule should be immediately reversed. Recyclers are already paid to recycle. They can use some of that money to pay a little more for CRT processing. Eventually, the technology will take off and the price will come down. That’s how markets work.

Under California law, regulators are supposed to encourage new hazardous waste treatment technologies that reduce or eliminate the hazards to human health and the environment, where they can be practically utilized, to improve California’s economic and environmental well-being.

What the DTSC just did was the reverse. “This is knocking the legs out from under the industry that is developing the recycling technologies and making the capital investment,” said Jim Taggart, head of ECS Refining, the second-largest recycler in the country based in Stockton. The state should simply have kept its rules in place, he said. “It’s done by just not encouraging landfill. You require recycling and the system takes care of it.”

ECS Refining is separating high concentrations of lead from CRT glass and selling it back to smelters. Lead can be re-used in batteries. It’s selling glass to new customers from insulation to cement makers in other states. And the new technology can be adapted later to other materials as electronics advance.

The impetus for the emergency rule had to come from somewhere, said Taggart. “Possibly the waste industry or recyclers that stand to benefit from landfilling the glass.” Taggart says that unscrupulous recyclers could end up putting leaded glass in ordinary municipal landfills that charge much less to take waste. And waste management companies that own landfills stand to profit from the boom in business.

“We invested $10 million dollars into this technology,” he said. “What’s a hammer cost?” He said unscrupulous recyclers will just break up CRTs by hand, and throw what they think is harmless glass into cheap municipal landfills. But he says that glass will still contain toxic levels of lead. “The state won’t have any way to control that. It doesn’t have people at every landfill.”

Instead, regulators should be huddling with California lawmakers to see what can be done to use a chunk of that steady stream of money from consumers for electronics recycling to encourage the new technology. And it doesn’t have to stop there. Sheila Davis, executive director of the Silicon Valley Toxics Coalition says we need a paradigm shift. “We think the HPs, Apples, and Dells should be paying to make sure this stuff is not dumped on poor people but taken back and recycled responsibly.”

California might just want to join the 21st century and pass, like 23 other states have done, an Extended Producer Responsibility Law that makes electronics manufacturers that design, produce or sell a product minimize its environmental impact throughout its life cycle.

We’d shift away from charging consumers a recycling fee and have the manufacturer build the cost into product for its dismantling and recycling. That would be quite an incentive to figure out how to make products that are less toxic and easier to dispose of in the first place.

Instead, this DTSC is helping to sully the present and landfill the future.