American Resources Policy Network
Promoting the development of American mineral resources.

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:

  • Contaminated soil
  • Asbestos
  • Oil and gas
  • Pesticides
  • Polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs)
  • Cyanide
  • Arsenic

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:

  • Utah
  • Arizona
  • Nevada
  • Idaho
  • Arkansas

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.



DTSC Summary Report, retrieved May 16, 2013


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  • Aluminium 13 Al 26.982


    Major Uses: domestic consumption, transportation, building, electrical
    Import Dependency for U.S.: 38%
    Major Importers: Canada, Russia, China, Mexico

  • Iron 26 Fe 55.845


    Major Uses: construction, transportation (predominantly automotive), cans and containers
    Import Dependency for U.S.: 7%
    Major Importers: Canada, European Union, China, Mexico

  • Cobalt 27 Co 58.933195


    Major Uses: aircraft gas turbine engines, cemented carbides for cutting, wear-resistant applications
    Import Dependency for U.S.: 81%
    Major Importers: Norway, Russia, China, Canada

  • Copper 29 Cu 63.546


    Major Uses: building construction, electric and electronic products, and transportation equipment
    Import Dependency for U.S.: 30%
    Major Importers: Chile, Canada, Peru, Mexico

  • Palladium 46 Pd 106.42


    Major Uses: catalysts to decrease harmful emissions in light- and heavy-duty vehicles, also used in chemical and petroleum refining sector, and fabrication of laboratory equipment
    Import Dependency for U.S.: 94%
    Major Importers: South Africa, Germany, United Kingdom, Canada

  • Silver 47 Ag 107.87


    Major Uses: coins and medals, industrial applications, jewelry and silverware, and photography
    Import Dependency for U.S.: 65%
    Major Importers: Mexico, Canada, Peru, Chile

  • Tantalum 73 Ta 180.95


    Major Uses: automotive electronics, pagers, personal computers, and portable telephones
    Import Dependency for U.S.: 100%
    Major Importers: Australia, China, Kazakhstan, Germany

  • Rhenium 75 Re 186.207


    Major Uses: petroleum-reforming catalysts, superalloys used in turbine engine components
    Import Dependency for U.S.: 86%
    Major Importers: Chile, Netherlands

  • Platinum 78 Pt 195.084


    Major Uses: catalysts to decrease harmful emissions in light- and heavy-duty vehicles, also used in chemical and petroleum refining sector, and fabrication of laboratory equipment
    Import Dependency for U.S.: 94%
    Major Importers: South Africa, Germany, United Kingdom, Canada

  • Gold 79 Au 196.966


    Major Uses: Jewelry and arts, electrical and electronics, dental and other
    Import Dependency for U.S.: 33%
    Major Importers: Canada, Mexico, Peru, Chile