Is the DTSC not doing enough?

Is the DTSC not doing enough?

By Jake Thomas, Resource Recycling

In California, a report from a taxpayer and consumer advocacy organization is calling the enforcement culture at a large state regulatory agency "spineless" and is claiming it is "held captive by the industry it regulates." This same agency oversees many recycling industries in the Golden State.

The consumer protection and political reform group Consumer Watchdog has released a scathing report, claiming that the California Department of Toxic Substances Control is providing some of the weakest oversight in the nation of its otherwise very strong environmental laws.

Businesses seeking to skirt environmental regulations can play regulators off each other and can hire lobbyists to find ways around compliance, according to the report. Some companies regulated by the DTSC cut deals out of court and can negotiate fines down to a cost of doing business, according to the report. Consumer Watchdog is calling on top management at the DTSC to be replaced and for a full audit of the department's finances, along with other measures.

"Seven agencies have oversight over auto dismantlers and none of them know what the others are doing," said one unnamed environmental investigator in the report. "The chances of getting caught are such that half the auto recyclers in Los Angeles County aren't licensed."

The DTSC is heavily criticized in the report for its approach to Evergreen Oil, an oil recycling company in Newark, California.  The report argues that the department has gone easy on the company despite a history of chronic violations. The report also faults the department's handling of CleanTech, an oil recycling company in Irwindale, California.

The report also takes aim at metal shredding companies, presenting evidence that the DTSC takes a lax regulatory approach to them. It also targets the practice of sending "fluff," a residue leftover from auto shredding that often contains toxic metals, to landfills where it is used as a soil substitute to cover municipal waste.

According to the report, in the late 1980s and early 1990s the DTSC, under pressure from metal shredding companies, changed its rules to allow fluff to be sent to municipal landfills after giving it a special treatment. However, the report, citing former DTSC scientists, contends that this treatment wasn't working, and the fluff would leach or crumble and blow into the air.

"They essentially told the big guys if you sprinkle pixie dust on this stuff, you're golden," said one unnamed DTSC scientist in the report.

The report criticizes the DTSC for issuing a rule with no period for public comment that allows recycling companies to send plate glass from cathode ray tubes to landfills designed for hazardous waste, rather than requiring electronics makers to take back the material. The DTSC gave into pressure from recycling companies, according to the report, and should have instead goaded them into developing technology to recycle CRTs.

"This is knocking the legs out from under the industry that is developing the recycling technologies and making the capital investment," Jim Taggart, head of Stockton-based ECS Refining, is quoted as saying in the report. "It's done by just not encouraging landfill. You require recycling and the system takes care of it."

Currently, the DTSC is reviewing its permitting process and has acknowledged that 22 businesses are working with outdated permits.

"During the past several months, we have met with Consumer Watchdog representatives to understand their concerns," according to Debbie Raphael, director of the DTSC, in a statement sent to Resource Recycling. "Their report raises valid issues, issues that we have known about for some time. The report also contains inaccuracies."

Consumer Watchdog is a non-profit organization founded in 1985 by consumer advocate Harvey Rosenfield, best known for drafting, and organizing the campaign for a ballot proposal that cut automobile insurance rates in California.

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Dazed and confused


As someone who is quite familiar with the electronics recycling industry in CA, this report shocked me. I'm aware of the overly-rigid DTSC that takes an unreasonably narrow-minded stance on what is considered acceptable handling and downstream recycling of certain e-waste material streams. If they're turning a blind eye, accepting bribes, or being too lax in their enforcement, it doesn’t seem to be happening in the e-waste industry. In fact, they've gone so far as to make CRT recycling next to impossible. I guess that is why they have to allow CRTs in landfills - because a recycling solution that meets their standards is virtually unattainable.

DTSC too lax

It seems worth noting that Debbie Raphael is a brand-new director.  Calling for her replacement seems premature.  Let's give the woman a chance.

DTSC too lax

Has there been too much focus on hazardous waste via retailers, forcing them to pay multi-million dollar statewide settlements, incur years of "probation" at the cost of hiring outside service firms to cross the t's and dot the i's, and continue to receive regulatory inspections nitpicking at program procedures and product placement on the store shelves? Focus needs to be on the highest risk industries not on the industries which  have the deepest pockets.  Where is the enforcement on "mom and pop" shops, mechanics, etc?  This agenda wasn't started under Debbie Raphael and she should not be ousted to bring the agency back to course. I would think of all people, Debbie has the breadth of experience and common sense to steer the ship back on course and clean-up the abuse of inspectors and prosecutors looking to make a name for themselves via high dollar settlements and headlines.