Hazardous waste disposal sites: 'not in our backyard!'

As new Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) regulations for transporting and disposing of hazardous wastes go into effect, businesses are plaintively asking, "But where are we supposed to dump the stuff?"

The question is of particular concern in New England, where most waste is either dumped in landfills or shipped to other states. The tougher EPA regulations and the closing of many of the present landfill sites can only worsen a situation that many people already see as critical, say many manufacturers in the region.

"We don't have a single [state] approved facility," says Paul Keough of the New England regional EPA's Office of Public Awareness. "A lot of people who have been cutting corners or doing something inappropriate or illegal with their waste are going to run into problems. It's going to cost them money."

Ironically, public antipathy toward building licensed facilities is worsening the problem. The cost of shipping wastes from New England to approved facilities in other parts of the ocuntry has nearly doubled in two years, says Joseph Baerlein of the New England Council, a regional business development organization. Individual on-site management facilities are costly, inefficient, and few industries can afford them. The only alternative is the far cheaper, illegal dumping.

"People don't normally equate illegal dumping with not having licensed hazardous waste facilities," says Mr. Baerlein. "All of us are in favor of protecting public health, but if we don't find some way to get licensed facilities, there won't be any place to send the [hazardous wastes]."

A fall 1979 study by Arthur D. Little Inc. for the New England Regional Commission estimates that 4,500 companies in New England generate 230-330 million gallons of hazardous waste a year from the manufacture of metal products electrical equipment, textiles, dyes, leather tanning, paints and varnishes, drugs and pharmaceuticals, and jewelry.

William McCarthy of Associated Industries of Massachusetts, a state business organization, fears the devastating impact the lack of facilities could have on New England's economy. He says one Fortune 500 company in New England is seriously considering relocating, and many other companies may have little choice but to follow that lead.

Mr. Baerlein says it is also likely that new businesses will shy away.

"Say you're a large corporation in New York looking to expand, and you have a choice of Rhode Island or Alabama. If there's a licensed hazardous waste facility in Alabama where you may pay $20 a drum, but in Rhode Island you have to ship it for $70 a drum, it's a pretty easy decision as to where you're going to expand."

The Arthur D. Little report suggests that an adequate hazardous waste facility network in New England would include 6 to 10 treatment facilities associated with transfer stations or intergrated complexes, four or five integrated complexes with solvent recovery, rotary kiln incineration and landfill capacity, one or two liquid burning incinerators, and one oil recovery facility. The study adds that up to 17 intrastate transfer stations might also be needed, with the cost for the whole network running between $130 million and

But in New England, a strong "home rule" tradition often takes precedence over regional needs. Many communities, aware of EPA investigations of potentially serious health hazards at hundreds of chemical dump sites, simply refuse to have anything to do with new facilities. Tell local residents that a nearby area is being considered as a possible dump site and the reaction is "Not in our town -- go somewhere else!"

The Rev. Bruce Young has already seen two wells closed in the city of Woburn, Mass., because of high levels of the toxic chemical trichloroethyle. He says he feels hazardous waste disposal facilities are necessary to preserve the water suply. But he admits candidly that in his community people probably would be up in arms if they were told an approved facility was being considered nearby, no matter how many guarantees were made about the health and safety of residents.

"I think it will take a while for communities to actively go out and bid for one of these sites," he says.

Maine, New Hampshire, and Rhode Island have set up hazardous waste planning committees to deal with the siting problem. Connecticut has passed a bill that by July 1981 will set up a nine-member board to evaluate potential locations and to license facilities. But opposition to the bill is still intense, mostly because of the board's ability to override local objections, says Paul Hassler of the Connecticut Legislature's Environment Committee.

"They're afraid because of the override possibility, . . ." he says, adding, "There are provisions for local participation all along the line, but the board makes the final decision. And nobody wants to live across the street from a disposal facility."

Local assessment committees would be established where a hazardous waste facility has been proposed. These committees would receive technical assistance grants from the state to study the proposed project and assess its impact on the community. They would also negotiate with the developer for a package of compensation and incentives to offset the costs of the facility.

Debby Sanderson, research director for the Special Commission on Hazardous Waste, says such "incentives" could include some kind of prepayment of taxes on the facility, a surcharge on the disposal costs, special equipment units, such as fire trucks or even arrangements for road repair work. And if a developer is taking over a piece of property of value to the community for other reasons, they may ask that he provide or set aside land for a park.

Local boards of health still will have a say in site selection. But instead of the previous criteria of "health, safety, comfort, and convenience," they will be concerned only with health and safety. The comfort and convenience factors will be handled through negotiation.

Some towns and developers already have expressed interest in building disposal facilities. But Peter Schneider, hazardous wastes project director of the New England Regional Commission, admits that when it comes to actually building facilities, there is a long way to go.

The commission is now in the midst of an educational campaign to inform people about the difference between "past mismanagement and proper management for the future." He says such education should help reduce the major obstacle of public opposition.

"When you say you want to build a hazardous waste facility, even with the state of the art, event if it has twice as many backups as it needs and is run as safely as possible, people still equate it with the horror of the Love Canal situation. . . . The past problems are making the future solutions really difficult."

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