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#48 - Waste Haulers Discover A Place To Build Dumps And Incinerators Where Regulations Are Often Lax, 25-Oct-1987

The nation's waste hauling firms--BFI, Waste Management, Inc., and
others--have discovered many new places to dump: America's 300 Indian
reservations. Conditions there are perfect: the Indians are almost
universally poor; unemployment is 50% or more; the federal government
does not have jurisdiction; state governments do not have jurisdiction;
and the local people often lack access to scientific and technical
advice. Under these conditions, promises and a little cash can go a
long way.

"Non-Indian entities are using cash and poverty politics on the
reservations to make us once again a dumping grounds," says Suzan Harjo
of the National Congress of American Indians in Washington, DC.

Six months ago Waste Management, Inc., approached the Gila River Indian
Community in Arizona, hoping to establish a 640-acre landfill on the
Indians' 372,000-acre reservation. They flew tribal officials to
Chicago to visit their Oak Brook home office where chemists in white
coats give the impression that Waste Management is something besides a
garbage company. Waste Management promised the Indians annual revenues
of $10 million--a staggering sum of money for an impoverished desert

The tribe ultimately turned down the offer. "I would say that probably
was the most difficult decision that this council had when they looked
at the proposition," says William T. Talbow, director of the
Community's physical resources department. Mr. Talbow says his people
are now considering proposals to build a large waste incinerator to
generate power.

Rita Lavelle, the former U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)
official who served a prison term for lying to Congress in connection
with the Stringfellow Acid Pits near Riverside, California, is now
peddling her services as an independent waste consultant to Indians and
others. She recently told the Los Angeles Times (September 26, pg. 1)
that she has been asked by more than 20 Indian tribes in recent months
to help them evaluate waste processing proposals. She said she had
recommended against almost all of them because the proposals involved
"bad technologies."

Even some people in the waste hauling business are speaking out,
cautioning the Indians to be careful. John Schofield, senior vice
president of International Technologies (IT) Corp., a major waste
processing company, says, "Indian tribes need to be cautioned against
individuals looking for that fast buck. Quite frankly, there have been
a lot of people in this business who have not acted honorably. There
are good guys, but there are an awful lot of bad guys around."

BFI (Browning-Ferris Industries) of Houston, Texas, has wooed the
Cherokees in North Carolina (unsuccessfully) and more recently the Fort
Mohave tribe on a reservation that straddles parts of California,
Nevada and Arizona.

"They flew some of us [to Texas] out on a private jet, took us to their
private country club... put us up in the best hotels," says Nora
Garcia, tribal chairwoman. "We were told it would provide a lot of jobs
and good revenues for the tribe.

"Then they showed us what we'd be involved in. It was devastating to
stand on the edge of huge holes in the ground five football fields wide
with... chemicals and oils." The Fort Mojave community ultimately
turned down BFI's offer.

In 1979 the Bureau of Indian Affairs, the U.S. agency with trust
responsibility for Indian nations, built a municipal solid waste
landfill in Parker, Arizona, on sovereign land owned by the Colorado
River Indian tribes. In 1984 a southern California waste hauler
persuaded the tribe to accept wastes that would have been considered
"hazardous" under California law. The waste is shredded automobiles,
which are loaded with lead, zinc, cadmium, copper and polychlorinated
biphenyls (PCBs). The Parker landfill

charges $75 for dumping a 20-ton load. The same load dumped at a
hazardous waste landfill in California would cost $1600 or more. The
tribe makes $127,000 annually from the operation and the hauler is
happy: "There's no red tape there," says Roger Bejarano. "It's so much
easier to start an operation on these lands," he says.

The federal Indian Health Service was supposed to inspect the Parker
landfill at least once a year to make sure it wasn't becoming a hazard
to the Indians. But they haven't done it. "We haven't been, I guess, as
diligent in meeting that responsibility as perhaps we should have
been," says Dean Jackson of the Indian Health Service. Still, he says,
the Health Service's role is strictly advisory. "We have no badge. We
have no regulatory authority."

Dick Agajanian, owner of the salvage firm that hauls waste across the
Mohave desert from California to Parker, says his customers have
difficulty refusing the offers he makes them: cut-rate dumping, no red
tape, and everything legal. His list of customers is growing. He
recently added to his list the California Department of Transportation,
the U.S. Forest Service, and the U.S. Federal Reserve Bank. "It is the
difference between spending $100,000 a year and $500,000 a year on
disposal," says Douglas Shaw, vice-president and general counsel for
the Federal Reserve in San Francisco.

The LOS ANGELES TIMES says there's a "new land rush" on with waste
haulers proposing dumps, incinerators and waste processing facilities
on Indian lands. Though their lands are held in trust for them by the
U.S. government, Indians negotiate directly with waste haulers and are
free to cut their own deals.

"The Indian is more trusting than the non-Indian," says Conner
Byestewa, Jr., environmental protection officer for the Colorado River
Indian tribes. "We just have to hope that our negotiations and business
deals are good ones." He adds, "You never have real security."

Two months after the Parker landfill began accepting industrial waste
from California, a fire broke out in the auto shredder waste, sending a
thick plume of black smoke over the town that residents said smelled
like burning plastic. An EPA report said, "If the waste contained PCB,
then dioxins would be left as residue [from the fire]."

Tribal attorney Pam Williams says, "If mistakes are made, if advantages
are taken of the tribes, it's not for our lack of commitment." But, she
adds, "I agree the tribe has to be vigilant and probably has to be

--Peter Montague


Descriptor terms: bfi; wmi; native americans; tribal lands; cherokees;
nc; it corp; gila river indian community, az; az; fort mojave; ca; nv;
bia; landfilling; waste hauling industry;