PARKER, Ariz. — The Colorado River can be a magical line.
By crossing the river near Parker, Arizona, the waste California considers hazardous becomes regular trash in Arizona.
"Since 2018, California has taken more than 660,000 tons of contaminated soil and dumped it at regular landfills in Arizona," CalMatters reporter Robert Lewis said.
The organization broke the story in January after a months-long investigation into how California disposed of its toxic waste.
"So every year California digs up 100,000s of tons of contaminated soil," Lewis said. "Toxic material, nasty stuff, DDT, lead, heavy metals."
California's environmental standards are more stringent compared to the federal government. Under state law, these toxic materials are supposed to be disposed of in landfills specifically meant to handle hazardous materials.
Or, they could ship it to a state with more relaxed rules – like Arizona.
"Nothing magical happens when this dirt crosses from California into Arizona. What happens is California regulations stop at the border. Its waste does not," Lewis said.
The investigation found that California dumped nearly half of its hazardous waste in states like Utah and Arizona.
Near communities like where David Harper lives.
"If it’s not hazardous, why don’t they keep it in Los Angeles?" Harper asked. "Why does it have to be close to our community?"
Near Native American reservations
The two Arizona landfills California dumps its waste into are the La Paz County Landfill and the South Yuma County Landfill.
Both are near Native American reservations.
"Let's take it to the reservation," Harper said. "It’s cheaper, it’s not going to impact anybody, and if it does, it’s low-income, poverty people."
Harper is a member of the Colorado River Indian Community and an environmental activist. The reservation ends around five miles from the La Paz County landfill, where 160,000 tons of California-contaminated soil has been dumped since 2018.
"The amount of oversight of such facilities is limited. They don’t do groundwater monitoring at that landfill," Lewis said.
Republic Services runs the La Paz County Landfill and has a clean record.
In a statement, the company said that they are committed to safety and environmental responsibility saying in part:
"The La Paz landfill in Arizona is operated in an environmentally safe and responsible manner that meets both federal and state environmental protection standards, which were established to safely manage waste. The Landfill has operated for the past 25 years under a groundwater suspension plan approved by the Arizona Department of Environmental Quality. The La Paz landfill utilizes a state-of-the-art engineered composite liner system that includes a durable high-density polyethylene liner and an underlying geosynthetic clay liner. This highly engineered system ensures we pose no risk to human health or the environment."
South Yuma County Landfill, which CalMatters found had a spottier environmental record did not respond to 12News' request for comment.
Simply put, it is legal and cheaper to do so.
Arizona has less stringent environmental laws than California. CalMatters found it was often at least 20-60% cheaper to ship the waste to a regular landfill in a different state than dispose of it at one of the hazardous waste sites in California.
"If This material is so dangerous that we as a state, California as a state, believe it needs to be handled at a hazardous waste disposal facility, then dumping it outside of Native American reservations in Arizona is unconscionable," Lewis said. " And if it’s not so dangerous and it can be handled appropriately at a regular landfill then we are driving up costs for business, government, for taxpayers, for no good reason."
Lewis said there could be a proposal passed in a few years that could end the practice. However, that plan is by no means a sure thing.
12News went to Parker, to talk with folks about the trash. Most people didn't care if the waste was toxic or not. They said they didn't want California trash in Arizona.
“It’s not right. Keep it over there,” said Drew, a resident of Parker. “I want to get a truck and ship it back.“
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