FULL OF SCRAP Splitting legal hairs over what’s useful and what’s waste

Feb 01, 2008 | 11:27 AM |

Lawsuits often are decided on narrow, hair-splitting issues. Lawyers regard these as the only matters to be resolved. The rest of us might wonder why a judge or other highly educated and highly paid members of our society spend so much time trying, in a sense, to count the number of angels (or devils, for that matter) on the head of a pin.

Such was the case with a ruling by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit last November. It reversed a U.S. District Court's decision that absolved suppliers of scrap to the now-defunct Alco Pacific Inc. lead smelter in Carson, Calif., from any responsibility for clean-up costs—not that any clean-up work has been undertaken yet.

Alco Pacific operated a smelter in the Los Angeles area from 1950 to 1990 that processed lead-acid vehicle batteries and wheel weights, as well as lead slag and dross, into lead ingot. When the Department of Toxic Substances Control (DTSC) of the California Environmental Protection Agency tested the soil and found it loaded with lead, the one-acre lot was designated a hazardous waste site. Because the smelter has been shut down for almost two decades, it is now an orphan site. It has not been added to the federal government's Superfund list, so it is up to California to find the funds to clean it up.....

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