When it comes to being stewards of the land, humans aren’t doing a very good job.
We use parts of stuff and throw away what’s left. The result is a growing mountain of unwanted trash, some of it dangerous.
A good case in point is Casmalia Resources’ hazardous waste facility in our Valley’s foothills, about a half-mile north of the community of Casmalia.
About 10,000 waste producers brought their leftovers to the site over a span of 17 years. The mess created a toxic brew that has the potential for fouling the area and local groundwater supplies for hundreds, and perhaps thousands of years.
And it all happened a generation ago, beginning in 1972.
The dump site has been closed by government order since 1991. And now, nearly three decades later, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has settled upon a strategy for cleaning up the 252-acre site.
Well, not all of it. A big chunk of the property has been deemed too polluted, too toxic to be cleaned in a reasonable manner. All this was explained at a public meeting last week, at which EPA officials assured everyone that even though a part of the site is too fouled to fix, the place has been “stabilized” and no current risks to the general public exist.
It took experts 28 years to figure this out? Really?
It could have, and should have been figured out within months of the Casmalia dump’s shutdown. But the EPA had years to determine that the site contains more than 300 chemicals considered to be a threat to humans and wildlife. The poisons have been detected in the soil, surface water and underground aquifers.
The government’s experts refer to these materials as “chemicals of concern,” which is bureaucratic code for stuff that will make you sick, and in some cases, eventually kill you.
EPA officials mentioned at last week’s meeting that the preferred cleanup strategy would cost an estimated $60 million, require five years or so of construction, with a predicted $4 million-plus a year in operational costs.
And all that work and expense does nothing to remediate the so-called Area 5, which has been designated a “technical impracticability zone,” for which the EPA plans to waive cleanup standards and leave contaminants in place. Even with the most aggressive treatment, the groundwater could not be fully restored in a reasonable time, and judging from comments by those officials, a “reasonable time” could be anywhere from 200 to 2,000 years.
We suppose local residents — especially those living anywhere near the Casmalia dump site — should appreciate the fact that a cleanup plan is now in place, or soon will be.
On the other hand, the intervening 28 years of nothing happening to address a major local environmental problem is frustrating, to put it mildly and without employing words that have to be bleeped out of this editorial.
Casmalia’s travails also underline the importance of putting more thought into our methods of hazardous-waste disposal. Each person in the United States produces an average of 4 pounds of hazardous waste a year, which doesn’t sound like a lot — until you multiply that by our total population. That’s more than a half-million tons a year.
And many of those potentially-dangerous products are nearby, items such as adhesives, paints, cosmetics, drain openers, fungicides and insecticides, oils, batteries, the list goes on and on.
Casmalia’s situation also underlines the importance of all of us paying attention when officials ask us not to toss hazardous waste in with the regular garbage.