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Hazardous Waste Clean-Up and the Future of California’s Economy
Hundreds of hazardous waste sites, if cleaned, could revitalize California’s economy
As you may already know, there is a growing hazardous waste problem in California. Over 139 sites in the state are currently awaiting cleanup, each contaminated with . What’s more, California’s slow permitting process for hazardous waste disposal often forces local businesses to ship contaminants to states with less stringent disposal regulations.
But what happens when California’s contaminated sites are cleaned up properly? And how can we ensure that more sites are cleaned in the future?
Emeryville, California: A Clean-up Success Story
In addition to health and environmental protection, economic development is one of the most significant benefits of contaminated site clean-up. Perhaps the most striking example in California is the city of Emeryville. A once polluted community, Emeryville is now home to IKEA, Novartis, Pixar, and thousands of jobs thanks to decontamination efforts from the DTSC during the 1980’s and 90’s. This has led to:
Could Yuba be the Next Emeryville?
Emeryville proves that there is incredible potential for California cities stifled by pollution. Unfortunately, there aren’t enough success stories like Emeryville. Many contaminated sites in California remain polluted with hazardous material, hindering economic development and leaving acres of wasted, undeveloped land.
One site that could follow in Emeryville’s footsteps, however, is the proposed location for the Yuba River Charter School near Grass Valley, CA. The school recently received a grant from the EPA to clean up 300 cubic yards (or 600,000 pounds) of toxic soil at the site of its future campus. When lead, arsenic, and other hazardous wastes are removed, it will host the brand-new school and could potentially revitalize the surrounding community which has struggled with contamination for decades.
In order to accommodate hazardous material from places like the Yuba School (and address the needs of numerous other contaminated California sites), there must be in-state facilities that are able to properly process and dispose of this waste. Yuba’s official Removal Action Workplan, for example, says that it will send the 300 tons of contaminated soil to the Chemical Waste Management facility in Kettleman City, CA.
However, observers should wonder if this cleanup plan is possible. The facility at Kettleman is one of only three landfills that can process hazardous waste in California, and is currently operating at minimal capacity. If the waste cannot be shipped to Kettleman, chances are that it will either be shipped out of state, or it will not be cleaned up at all.
Improving the Permitting Process in California
In order for California to realize the significant economic potential that could come from cleaning hazardous waste sites, the state government must provide permits to groups that can properly handle the disposal of those wastes. Though the DTSC recently granted Chemical Waste Management a “draft permit” to expand their hazardous waste facility at Kettleman, it isn’t nearly enough space to handle the vast amount of polluted in-state sites. While we commend the DTSC for granting a draft permit for expansion, there is much more work to be done to improve the California permitting process for hazardous waste disposal.
California sites awaiting environmental clean-up.
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