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California’s Hazardous Waste Polluting Other States
Dysfunctional permitting system hindering critical waste cleanup
In its last news release, American Resources Policy Network described how the state of California has hundreds of sites polluted with hazardous waste (including 98 federal Superfund sites) along with some of the toughest regulations for managing that waste. However, despite the extent of these polluted sites and the laws meant to clean them up, many communities in California remain contaminated with hazardous waste.
What is causing this backlog of hazardous waste cleanups in California? For one thing, under the rules meant to clean up that waste—primarily under the purview of California Department of Toxic Substances Controlled (DTSC)—companies have been able to avoid disposing of waste in California and conforming to the state’s struck disposal standards. At the same time, the state has been slow to approve permits for those who can safely and effectively clean contaminated sites in-state.
How much waste is being shipped out of California?
Over 542,000 tons of hazardous waste were shipped out of California in 2011 alone, and the numbers are growing. Some of the main pollutants that California ships to other states include:
Where is the waste going?
The grand majority of California’s hazardous waste—more than 90%—is shipped to just five states. Those top five states, in order of the amount of California’s waste they receive, are:
The need for a more just and effective permitting process
Since the state’s management of waste clean-up and permitting processes in California are so slow and ineffective, sites oftentimes remain contaminated for longer than needed and waste is just shipped out of state as opposed to meeting California’s strict rules for hazardous waste disposal. Many of the states that California dumps its’ hazardous waste in do not regulate hazardous wastes as strictly as California.
And this isn’t just the occasional truckload of waste. According to documents we received from the DTSC, over 542,000 tons of California’s hazardous waste was shipped to other states in 2011 alone.
Speaking to this growing trend of shipping hazardous waste out of state, Debbie Rafael, director of the DTSC, recently stated: “If our solution is to export our harm elsewhere, we have to be honest about what we’re doing.”
It’s time for California to get honest about not just its hazardous waste problem and laws, but to also address the underlying permitting issue that is causing it. Environmental laws and clean-up facilities are in place to keep California’s citizens healthy and safe, yet the lack of permits is keeping those institutions from performing the important function for which they were created in the first place. And what’s the point of having tough hazardous waste laws in the state, if the state allows so many companies to avoid the regulations and ship the waste out of state. Is that the intent legislators had when they passed those laws?
Until then, with the existing backlog of contaminated sites and growing practice of shipping waste out of state, both Californians and those from other states will continue to suffer the consequences.
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