Innovative Waste Utilization, LLC (IWU) located in South Phoenix, Arizona was shut down after a drug bust on February 26, 2003. The day following the raid, the ADEQ ordered closure of the plant which suspended the facility’s hazardous waste permit .
The South Phoenix community has had a history of environmental issues, most notably those between 1992 and 2004. A toxic chemical fire in 1992 that started at a plastic manufacturing plant and lasted almost 12 hours led to deteriorated health of community members and increased death rates in the area downwind of the fire . In 1994, the Arizona Department of Environmental Quality allowed the state of California to send hazardous waste containing both DDT and lead to South Phoenix for storage by Greenfield Environmental while state environmental officials found a permanent located for the sludge . Greenfield Environmental was the previous operator of the facility run by Innovative Waste Utilization.
Innovative Waste Utilization (IWU) purchased the facility located at 2575 South 16th Avenue from Greenfield Environmental in 1999.
For the seventeen years Greenfield Environmental operated this facility, there had never been a hazardous waste permit [2, 3 p. 125]. The purchase, however, included an interim waste permit and by not applying for a permanent permit, IWU avoided a public hearing.
In 1999, IWU submitted a proposal to the Arizona Department of Environmental Quality (ADEQ) requesting an expansion of the 4-acre facility along with a proposal to begin treating hazardous waste .
The ADEQ considered this proposal in 1999.
Three years prior to this proposed expansion, the ADEQ described the area as a low-income, minority community already overburdened with industry . Serving a primarily white Phoenix population, this plant wanted to expand its operation in an area predominately inhabited by minorities . The Environmental Protection Agency notes that the population within a 3 mile radius of the facility was 83% minority .
In addition to Innovative Waste Utilization, there were seven other hazardous waste facilities located in South Phoenix .
The expansion permit application gave rise to high resistance at the local level. Community members were concerned about their health and the health of their children after a long history of environmental problems in South Phoenix. In 2000, Concerned Residents of South Phoenix (CRSP) and The Center on Race, Poverty and the Environment charged the ADEQ with violation of Title VI of the Civil Rights Act which states that agencies that receive federal funding are prohibited from actions that have a disproportionate and discriminatory impact on people of color.
CRSP claimed that the public was not properly notified about the planned expansion . The complaint was aimed at ADEQ’s long-term complicity in allowing hazardous waste facilities to cluster in that neighborhood [3 p. 125]. The complaint was ultimately dismissed [9, p. 12545].
In response to the expansion proposal, the City Council of Phoenix developed an ordinance preventing expansion of hazardous waste facilities such as IWU and prevented new hazardous waste facilities from locating in South Phoenix [2, 3 p.125].
As a result of actions of grassroots organizations like CRSP and with the help of larger advocacy groups, expansion was halted .
The agency still approved a permit to store hazardous waste, however. It was the only such permit issued by ADEQ in that year .
IWU contracted with the state of California to accept toxic waste collected in West Coast methamphetamine busts and over time, employees began selling the chemicals to local meth labs [3 p. 125].
In February 2003, law enforcement officials arrested several employees at the facility on various drug-related charges associated with the illegal removal and distribution of drug lab waste being processed at the facility. This led ADEQ to revoke IWU’s hazardous waste permit and order IWU to cease operations on February 26th.
IWU attempted to appeal this decision but eventually abandoned its efforts which made the closure permanent . ADEQ oversaw the 18-day removal to ensure that 630,000 pounds of waste were removed and properly disposed of .