Fluoride Action Network

Burbank, California Admits to Lax Enforcement of Toxic Waste Rules

Source: Los Angeles Times | Times Staff Writer
Posted on May 5th, 1991
Industry type: Steel Industry

Burbank officials admitted Friday that a breakdown in monitoring and enforcement procedures led to a U.S. Environmental Protection Agency lawsuit which contends that the city allowed toxic wastes to be dumped into sewers.

City Manager Bud Ovrom and Public Works Director Ora Lampman said Burbank didn’t crack down hard enough during the mid-1980s on industries that were accused of committing violations by discharging more than the authorized amount of toxic waste without pre-treatment.

“The city wasn’t dumping anything into the ocean, but we just didn’t make these private industries do a good job of taking care of things,” Ovrom said. “Burbank has a disproportionate amount of toxic industries. We didn’t do as good a job as we should have of clamping down on them.” The city faces potential penalties in the tens of millions of dollars in the suit filed Wednesday.

EPA officials said that they had been informed that a contractor the city hired in the mid-1980s to monitor and pre-treat toxic waste did not perform adequately. But city officials said the enforcement was the city’s responsibility, not that of the hired contractor.

Lampman said that Burbank issued notices of violations against some of the industries but failed to follow up on them. But he also laid blame on the EPA, which he said did not specify how aggressive Burbank and other cities should have been in monitoring and enforcing the industries. He said the EPA had more lenient regulations until last year.

“We never had an interest in not meeting the requirements, but then the EPA last year took a much more aggressive approach,” he said. “They gave us this administrative order on guidelines to follow last August, and told us at that time they would follow it up with a lawsuit, instead of giving us time to make corrections.

“Frankly, the EPA is taking an approach that seems to be more public relations-oriented than it is to correcting the situation,” Lampman said.

The EPA and the Los Angeles Regional Water Quality Control Board named five Los Angeles County businesses — including two in Burbank — in the suit, charging that they failed to treat hazardous waste properly before releasing it into the sewer system. The suit also accused Burbank along with the city of Los Angeles of neglecting to ensure that the industries complied with treatment requirements.

EPA officials conducted investigations and studied data submitted by the cities as a basis for the suit.

Hugh Barroll, an EPA lawyer in San Francisco, said the agency did not sue more companies because “we don’t have the resources to take them all on.”

He said the five businesses were selected because they were “significant violators.”

EPA officials said at least 21% of 61 Burbank industries violated standards at least once in 1989. But because Burbank failed to monitor the industries properly, the number could be even higher, they said.

“Burbank had a totally unacceptable pattern of noncompliance,” Barroll said.

“There were lots of industries that were not treating their toxic waste because Burbank was letting them get away with it. That’s what we want to see stopped.”

He added that the EPA has written regulations about how much treatment must be done on industrial waste, and guidelines on how the city should monitor it. “There was an almost total breakdown of this program,” Barroll said.

Cities are supposed to monitor and report the various pollution counts in their discharges. Among the elements to be looked for in samples from industries is the amount of oil and grease, acid, nitrogen, chloride and coliform contamination.

The results of the sampling are to be submitted in monthly reports to the EPA and the regional water board.

Barroll said there were some months when Burbank failed to list results for one or more of the pollutants. He said there was also a failure to monitor, inspect and enforce the regulations.

Penalties against the industries could have ranged from fines to license revocations.

The city had hired the Metcalf & Eddy company, an environmental engineering firm, to monitor and pre-treat waste for the city from 1985 to 1990, officials said. The firm was not named in the suit, and Lampman said it was not the fault of that company that the city failed to follow through on violations.

Officials for Metcalf & Eddy said they were not aware of any wrongdoing or improper performance by their company.

Two of the Burbank businesses targeted in the suit are Stainless Steel Products Inc. and Zero Corp.

Stainless Steel Products discharges approximately 90,000 gallons a day to Burbank’s treatment plant. After being treated, the discharges then empty into the Burbank Western Wash, a tributary of the Los Angeles River, EPA officials said.

Zero Corp., which makes a variety of metal products, discharges about 60,000 gallons per day through the Burbank sewer system to the treatment system of the city of Los Angeles. The treated discharges are then sent to Santa Monica Bay.

The suit alleges that the two companies failed to meet self-monitoring requirements for their toxic-waste discharges, and violated their authorized discharge limitations for several chemicals and substances. The companies face possible fines in the tens of thousands of dollars as a result of the suit, EPA officials said.

Some of Stainless Steel Products’ discharges of chromium and fluoride greatly exceeded authorized limits, the suit said.

The daily limit for fluoride discharge at Stainless Steel Products is 0.09 parts per million, EPA officials said. During one day in June, 1990, the fluoride content was 2 parts per million, Barroll said.

Zero Corp., which makes several metal products, committed the same violations with excess amounts of cadmium, chromium, lead and total toxic organic substances, the suit says.

Officials from the two companies were unavailable for comment.

Since last year, the city has hired Pasadena-based JMM Operational Services to monitor industrial waste discharges, officials said. Burbank officials said the enforcement and monitoring of businesses has improved significantly, and added that they hoped the EPA would take that into account.

“We’re aware of what problems Burbank had, and what they’re doing now,” Barroll said. “But their record is unacceptable, and they have a long way to go.”