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After neighbors' 4-year fight, L.A. waste plant agrees to move

Hazardous wastes
Barrels of hazardous wastes fill a one-acre lot in South Central Los Angeles  
September 2, 1998
Web posted at: 8:48 p.m. EDT (0048 GMT)

From Correspondent Jim Hill

LOS ANGELES (CNN) -- On a one-acre lot in South Central Los Angeles, Statewide Environmental Services takes in barrels of hazardous waste, then consolidates and trucks them to disposal sites.

"Part of our job is to help the environment by taking care of toxic material that has to go somewhere," says owner Matt Stewart. But many people in this mostly minority neighborhood see it another way.

"This is a prime example of environmental racism," says Rahman Shabazz. "No place else would this be allowed to be done."

Waste site
Neighbors complain that toxic materials have caused headaches and nausea  

And after a four-year fight, community sentiment has won. The company has agreed to leave. The question remains, however, whether this decision marks an important environmental victory or an overreaction by a frightened community.

Ironically, Statewide was started by an African American man more than 25 years ago. He sold the facility to the current owners in 1991. Three years later, neighbors and an environmental group began a campaign to shut the company down.

"You wouldn't find this sort of facility in Beverly Hills, and you shouldn't find it in South Central Los Angeles," says attorney David Beckman.

CNN's Jim Hill reports
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Neighbors complained of chronic headaches and nausea from foul odors. Documents show one neighbor was diagnosed with a toxic reaction after reporting a white plume over the site in 1991. The company says it was a harmless cloud of steam and carbon dioxide.

Indeed, one doctor who has looked at the complaints tells CNN that the neighbors' varied health complaints appear to have no relation to hazardous waste exposure.

The company is challenging some 70 accusations that it violated hazardous waste laws. Officials insist the company will eventually be vindicated. But after all the conflict and controversy, they have decided that the best long-term solution is to pack up and move to another location.

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