A first attempt by the city to establish a temporary transfer site for toxic household trash is inciting fierce opposition in one neighborhood and a battle cry in another.
The issue is what to do with the estimated 5.8 tons of hazardous substances generated by District households every day, about 15 pounds per household a year.
The city is required by its own recycling law, enacted a year ago, to provide residents with an environmentally safe way to dispose of such waste, including old car batteries, used antifreeze and leftover paint and pesticides.
Residents' only options now are to store the waste, sneak it into regular trash pickups or pour it down the sink or storm drain, practices that experts say can be deadly. Some materials pose a fire hazard, they say, and all can contaminate ground water.
All other Washington area jurisdictions have set up transfer stations and regular collection schedules. Contractors separate household hazardous waste and haul it away immediately to special landfills far from the urban area.
The District now must establish two sites in the city to serve as periodic collection points. City officials are considering city-owned land at Fort Totten in Northeast and the parking lot of Robert F. Kennedy Stadium near the D.C. Armory. Both stations would operate on four days, the first of which city officials hope would be next summer, they said.
But community groups near Fort Totten are telling the city to expect a fight. At a packed forum on the proposal last week with D.C. Council member Charlene Drew Jarvis (D-Ward 4), angry residents said they were worried that the toxic waste could pose a health risk.
Jarvis said she will send a letter to Public Works Director John E. Touchstone telling him that Fort Totten is off limits. She said she will urge the council to pass a resolution banning the city from using Fort Totten if Touchstone persists.
In the area near RFK Stadium, Advisory Neighborhood Commission member Herbert Harris said residents will oppose a plan to use the stadium parking lot. "No community wants it," he said. "When you have amateurs hauling hazardous waste into your community, it represents a threat."
Not so, said David Duncan, who supervises the household hazardous waste collection program in Fairfax County. He said contractors, who charge about $100,000 a day for their services, are professional handlers who go to great lengths to guard against spills.
With the right publicity, the District could have a "tremendous" number of people getting such material out of their homes and to a safe place for disposal, he said.
In one weekend in the fall of 1988, the last time Fairfax County held a big collection day for household hazardous waste, more than 88,000 people showed up with 107,000 pounds of trash, not including paint or oil, Duncan said.
Public Works spokeswoman Tara Hamilton said the problem is a misunderstanding. She said the term "household hazardous waste" scares people, and she has started calling it "household products," explaining that residents routinely store the waste in their homes.
However, when such waste is thrown into the regular trash or mixed with other products, it can ignite or explode. And in landfills, the waste can seep into the ground water. The city just wants to collect it for safer disposal right away, Hamilton explained.
"We are trying to get the program up and going because the benefit to the environment can be so great in the long run," she said.