Letter to the Editor: Toxic Releases or Recycling: Do We Really Have to Choose?

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Toxic recycling

Californians shouldn't have to choose between recycling and poisoning our water, soil and air. Recently, CleanTech Environmental President Robert Brown, the CEO of a company that threatens to despoil a sensitive ecosystem in Irwindale, claimed in these pages (Jan. 16) that his used motor oil recycling plant will be so "state-of-the-art" that the project doesn't require an in-depth environmental impact report.

The rationale CleanTech Environmental is using – that recyclers deserve a pass from state environmental laws even when they poison people – has devastated the environment in working-class communities across California. In Irwindale, an environmental impact report is absolutely necessary because of the cumulative impact of at least a dozen other EPA-regulated facilities that manage the filthiest waste. The potential for hazardous waste spills so close to homes and schools and toxic contamination of water, soil, and air has to be evaluated, together with the effect any earthquakes could have on a facility built so close to the the Santa Fe Dam Recreational Area.

We shouldn't be giving companies like CleanTech, a large hauler of used motor oil with a spotty record, a pass on oversight when the company has been fined in the past for breaking the law.

In other parts of the state giving recyclers a pass has been devastating. State regulators have allowed PhibroTech, a recycler of toxic industrial chemicals in Santa Fe Springs in Los Angeles's industrial heartland, to operate on an expired permit for 16 years. According to the U.S. EPA, this company has contributed shockingly high levels of carcinogenic hexavalent chromium – the same toxic chemical Erin Brockovich made famous – to a four-mile long plume of contaminated groundwater that stretches from Whittier to Norwalk.

Evergreen Oil, another used oil recycler in Newark in the East Bay, has threatened the community with dangerous levels of arsenic and cyanide in its wastewater, poisonous fumes, explosions and fires, and cracks and gaps in its hazardous waste containment systems.

The CEOs of dirty companies with phony-sounding green names, like CleanTech or Evergreen Oil, have kept us in the dark about California's true toxic state. All we ask is that a proper Environmental Impact Report be prepared to determine what kind of risk CleanTech's new facility will pose for the people of Irwindale. If there's no harm to the public or the environment, why would CleanTech's CEO resist a review that could prove his recycling won't poison our soil, water or air?

-Liza Tucker, Consumer Watchdog, Santa Monica

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