Wasted time, lives and our future

May 2nd, 2013

When the Consumer Watchdog’s report “Golden Wasteland” came out, I felt vindicated.

For years, I have been sitting in meetings with DTSC, attending their workshops, reading their emails and have always felt like something was missing: logic and purpose. DTSC’s purpose is to protect California’s people and environment from harmful effects of toxic substances, but they get so bogged down in bureaucracy and regulations that what they do seems to lack logic.

Stakeholder meetings in which I have participated have felt like they were being set up to prevent progress, rather than to make progress.  Dealing with state agencies and conflicting stakeholders isn’t new to me. I have been a part of numerous stakeholder meetings. Typically the entity in charge of convening the stakeholder meeting will set up parameters for stakeholders to work from. These parameters serve as a point of reference to know what the goal is and what the organizing entity believes can be realistically accomplished.

I remember asking for such parameters from former DTSC director, Maureen Gorsen, after she stated that we (stakeholders) should ask for whatever we wanted with the Green Chemistry Regs (now called the Safer Consumer Products regulations).  I said we could ask for the moon but it would not be realistic, her response was – go head and ask for the moon.  How’s that for constructive guidance?  A lot of people travelled from throughout California to participate in this stakeholder meeting and I could not help but feel like the lack of direction was wasting everyone’s time.

I was disgusted that the head of a state agency, tasked with protecting California’s communities and environment, would have such a flippant response. The seriousness of DTSC’s task is in its name – toxic substances.

SVTC has seen a lack of enforcement by DTSC for the last 15 years. For many years DTSC allowed lead laden televisions and other devices to illegally go in California landfills.

But nothing could prepare me for what I would read in Golden Wasteland:

DTSC has allowed a company that “makes specialty chemicals for industry from the hazardous waste it accepts from the computer, chemical and aerospace industries” to operate on an expired permit for 16 years.  This is a facility that DTSC ordered to fix problems in 1999, 2000, 2003, 2007 and 2010.

They also may be responsible for the deaths of members of the community who lived near the chemical manufacturer. The community complained and asked DTSC to investigate.

Now, the facility wants to expand and according to the report, DTSC has already drafted a permit to approve it. Where is the logic behind that? How does that fulfill the mission of DTSC to protect communities or the environment?

If I had community members contacting me about families who have died and are dying from cancer in one given area, I would do everything in my power to get answers and if it was in my power, stop it from continuing.

And perhaps that is why the author of Golden Wasteland writes with such urgency, not a vendetta against DTSC, but with the understanding that lives are on the line.

Now clearly, not everything is the fault of DTSC. It seems that the whole system under Cal EPA is flawed and laws that are being passed are vague and possibly not giving them the teeth they need.

It is only fair to share that DTSC did issue a response to the report:

But unfortunately, I found it lacking in real answers to the issues that were addressed in the report.

We know that the current Director, Debbie Rafael, inherited a lot of these problems. But I do I wish she would have blown the whistle on what was happening at DTSC when she got there. Then she could have taken control over the situation and posted an explicit plan on how she intended to fix the problems when she took over (like making sure companies aren’t running off expired permits) and restore public confidence in the agency.

The impacted communities deserve better.

SVTC’s work has been hindered as DTSC allows companies to hide behind trade secrets at the expense of public health.

But all of this pales in comparison when you look at people in communities who are dying under DTSC authority. This must change.

We are hopeful that Senator de Leon is successful in his call for an investigation of DTSC: http://sd22.senate.ca.gov/news/2013-02-21-release-alarming-mismanagement-hazardous-waste-lax-enforcement-allegations-senators-.

And we are hopeful that legislation like AB 1329 which will reduce racial and economic disparities in siting hazardous waste facilities passes:

We hope that DTSC doesn’t get so caught up in wordsmithing responses to criticisms and just starts to take action to protect ALL Californians from toxic materials.