Amnesty Day Was Both Boon, Bust

September 08, 1991|By Adam Sachs | Adam Sachs,Staff writer

The county's first-ever Amnesty Day for the collection of household hazardous waste last year was both a boon and a bust: The turnout wasso good that it put the project's budget deep in the red to pay disposal costs.

So now what was hoped to be an annual event may not happen again, at least in the near future, unless private industry comes to the rescue with an infusion of dollars, said James E. Slater, administrator of the Office of Environmental Services.

"We've been talking to businesses to see if a number of them could come together, pool resources and help us sponsor one," said Slater. "I think it's a program very appropriate for business and industry to help with."

The office is considering sending letters to countybusinesses to solicit financial help. It also has contacted several non-profit organizations and the federal Environmental Protection Agency, with no results, said Slater.

The April 1990 Amnesty Day attracted 362 residents to the county Maintenance Center to drop off paints, household cleaners, car batteries, insecticides, herbicides, pesticides, fuels and other chemicals and solvents considered toxic and undesirable for landfill disposal. The deposits filled more than 250 drums, including about 115 with a 55-gallon capacity and 110 with a 20-gallon limit.

A survey of those who deposited materials revealed that about 25 percent would have included the hazardous waste with their household trash had Amnesty Day not taken place.

The high turnout surprised organizers, who had received $12,000 from the county topay for professional assistance and disposal of the waste. The wastehandling and disposal bill came to $93,500.

The price tag discouraged county commissioners from allocating money for a similar event in 1991, especially since revenue downturns were forcing budget cuts. Slater proposed paying for the event through the Solid Waste Enterprise Fund, which is financed by landfill dumping fees. But when the commissioners rejected a proposal to raise the $15-per-ton fee, the ideawas scrapped.

"Part of the problem is that it's a high-ticket item," said Slater. "A single day costs $100,000 to $150,000. I can't predict what will happen with next year's budget, but available funds don't look to be too much better."

Environmentalists contend that the price tag will be much higher later to clean up toxic wastes leaching from landfills into ground water and soil.

Commissioner Elmer C. Lippy said the board has decided, at least temporarily, to focus on educating the public on how to handle hazardous materials.

"If we thought that by not having Amnesty Day for one year, the environment would go to hell in a handbasket, we would certainly put aside our fiscal concerns and shell out $93,000," he said. "But we do have somealternatives."

Amnesty Day was an off-shoot of the county's effort to comply with the federal Superfund Amendments and ReauthorizationAct of 1986, which guarantees citizens the right to know what hazardous substances are being used or stored in the community.

Ideally,a permanent facility, which would be more efficient than a once-a-year effort, should be established for the collection of household hazardous waste, Slater said.

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