Consumer Watchdog Calls for End to Toxic Regulation at Department of Toxic Substances Control

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Santa Monica, CA — Consumer Watchdog sent a letter today to the head of California’s Department of Toxic Substances Control urging the agency to stop stalling and sanction or pull permits of serial environmental violators, including Chevron and Evergreen Oil, a used oil-re-refiner.
A third case, that of hazardous waste processor Phibro-Tech in the largely Latino working class community of Santa Fe Springs, east of Los Angeles, is a litmus test for the DTSC, the group said.
In a letter written to the agency’s new head, Deborah Raphael, the group said, “To refuse to utilize your reach is to abdicate your responsibility to all Californians.  Now is the time to re-direct the DTSC to be a regulator of toxics, rather than being a toxic regulator. “
Read the letter here:
Phibro-Tech, which has repeatedly settled out of court with the DTSC for infractions from hazardous waste overflows to cracks in containment areas, has operated on an expired permit from the DTSC for the past 15 years. Now, it’s asking for a new permit to expand its operations when extensive pollution at the site still hasn’t been entirely cleaned up. The groundwater contamination includes extremely high levels of hexavalent chromium, a confirmed carcinogen.
“The last thing Phibro-Tech should get is the reward of a new permit,” said Consumer Watchdog advocate Liza Tucker. “This plant is located just 600 feet from people’s houses and 500 feet from a municipal water supply well. People there are reporting elevated cases of cancer.  If the DTSC can’t protect this community from toxic substances, which is its mission, then it shouldn’t exist.”
Consumer Watchdog has called repeatedly for action in the Chevron refinery fire in Richmond in August, and the leak of a hazardous heat transfer fluid at the Evergreen Oil re-refinery in Newark in July.  But the DTSC insists it does not have the power to act because these cases involve more than hazardous waste.
In the letter the group notes:
•The mainly wrist-slap fines the agency collects are collectively far smaller than other branches of CAL EPA.  From 2007 through 2010, according to CAL EPA, the amount of penalties the DTSC collected fell by half to $2.2 million a year. By contrast the California Air Resources Board collected between $9 million and $20 million each year in the same time period.
•The DTSC can sanction Chevron for its emission of a vast toxic cloud of hazardous waste particulates that sent thousands of people to the hospital. In California, it is illegal to deposit hazardous waste outside a permitted facility and these wastes would have landed on open soil or water.
•The DTSC has the power to suspend any permit of a serial violator of environmental laws. Evergreen Oil’s leak of a hazardous heat transfer agent last summer provides the hook as only the latest problem in a long history of citations for cracked and inadequate waste storage areas and failure to track contaminated petroleum waste.
•By law, the DTSC has authority over hazardous waste, hazardous materials, and substances. Top staff are either ignorant of the department’s mission to protect communities and the environment from toxic substances or unwilling to fulfill it.  They should clarify their powers or leave the department.
“These powers are not a matter of interpretation, or debate,” the letter said. “Yet DTSC top staff has repeatedly rejected calls to use these powers to protect California families and communities from the poisons that surround them.”
News release on Raphael hearing:

Sacramento Bee Op-Ed “Confirmation Puts Focus On State's Toxic Waste”:

News release on Chevron and the fragmented system of regulation:
News release on Evergreen Oil leak and call to suspend permit:
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Liza Tucker
Liza Tucker
Liza Tucker is a consumer advocate for Consumer Watchdog, following everything from oil and gas to the regulation of toxic substances in the state of California. She comes to us from Marketplace, the largest U.S. broadcast show on business and economics heard by ten million listeners each week on 400 radio stations. Liza worked at this public radio show for a decade, first as Commentary Editor and then as Senior Editor for both Washington and Sustainability News.

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