Chem Waste’s Bioreactor at Kettleman City

Chemical Waste Management will probably get a three-year extension of the permit to operate its bioreactor disposal unit, which runs water through the mountains of trash it processes every day at its 30-acre facility outside Kettleman City.

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Bioreactors, which are fairly new in the landfill business, hold real promise in reducing the amount of garbage we push off into landfills.  But none of them, Kettleman City residents point out, are near a hazardous waste dump with Chem Wastes’ sloppy track record. Gasses, odor, and leaks are well-founded concerns, adding to the chemical miasma residents breathe every day, and the water they drink.

Yet Kettleman City residents concerns were disregarded when the bioreactor was proposed in 2007. Think about how many of them can take a day off and make the trip to Rancho Cordova where hearings are set for Aug. 3 at the Central Valley Water Quality Control Board headquarters?

The California Department of Toxic Substances Control pounced on Chemical Waste Management’s hazardous waste facility for further violations on May 20th.  This time the fine amounts to $46,000 in penalties for failure to report releases of hazardous waste.

The order also requires the facility to fully comply with reporting spills and accidents. Seems that Chem Waste failed to mention PCB releases between February and July 2010. Last November they were hit with a $300K fine. Over the years fines have amounted to nearly two million.

I’d really like to know if these fines ever get paid. Can somebody tell me? Like Hondo Chemicals in Bakersfield, and I hate to sound cynical, is this just written off as a cost of doing business? 

Hondo Chemicals has a well-established track record with the Kern County Board of Supervisors, which waives fines, delays compliance dates, and then just quits picking on them for awhile. And so on it goes.

I’m positive certain there are officials at CalEPA and the Department of Toxic Substances Control who gnash their teeth over the way business interests just go on doing what they’re doing because profits greatly exceed these piddling fines. And they can’t do a damn thing about it because business rules.

I just happened upon a story in the Los Angeles Times today reporting that P G & E, the northern California utility giant, dragged its heels nine months before admitting there had been a gas leak years before. That’s the explosion that killed eight people and blew away 38 houses.

According to PG & E spokesman Brian Swanson, “We’ve acknowledged several times since the tragedy that our operations and record-keeping practices are not where we want them to be,” Swanson said.

Maybe that’s all that’s wrong at Chem Waste. Just that they don’t keep track of things real well.

Will Kettleman city residents have to wait until Chem Waste blows itself up, or like Hondo Chemicals in Bakersfield, sets itself on fire, to get somebody to do something?

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2 Responses to Chem Waste’s Bioreactor at Kettleman City

  1. Nicki says:

    To say that gases, odor and leaks are “well-founded concerns” at the Kettleman Hills Facility is to ignore what each and every study has found. That is, there is no evidence suggesting that chemicals in or around the facility have posed a public health concern to the employees or neighboring residential communities.

    You can question these state and federal government investigations in our facility if you want, but you cannot dispute what the head of CalEPA said about them: The studies conducted on the Kettleman Hills Facility are “one of the most thorough environmental health investigations ever conducted in California.”

    • admin-mar says:

      Gases and odor are found by anyone with a nose. As to leaks, officials find only what they set out to test. If CalEPA had all the money in the world, or staff, the research questions would be broader. Regulations say tests must be done on thus and so. Whatever falls outside those requirements doesn’t appear.

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