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California's Toxic Waste Control Department Tries to Clean Itself Up

Nov 4, 2013

Credit Photo used under Creative Commons from Andy Patterson / Modern Relics /

Californians produce two million tons of hazardous waste every year. And the department that manages that waste has faced criticism for the way it operates. Katie Orr reports from Sacramento on the department’s efforts to clean up its act.

When a business is dealing with toxic waste in what’s considered a potentially risky way it must get a permit from California’s Department of Toxic Substances Control. There are currently 118 permitted facilities in the state that treat, store or dispose of toxic waste.

A recent report commissioned by the Department shows its permitting process is confusing and takes too long. A renewal takes more than four years on average. DTSC Deputy Director Brian Johnson says he’d like to cut that time in half.

Our explicit intent at this point is to ensure that the permits we come out with are more timely, without sacrificing any of the quality and the defensibility and enforceability of the permits,” says Johnson.

Johnson says a more traditional management structure is being put in place to improve the permitting process.

But Liza Tucker thinks the problems run deeper. She’s an advocate with the non-profit organization Consumer Watchdog. She’s written a report that’s critical of DTSC.

“I think it’s more a problem of willpower than manpower. I think that this is an agency that’s been largely captured by the industry that it regulates, that engages in a lot of foot-dragging. And, inside of which, different divisions don’t necessarily communicate very well,” says Tucker.