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Did You Know Environmentally Conscious California Ships Toxic Waste to Mexico?

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The Recicladora Temarry de Mexico plant near the community of San Pablo, in Tecate, Baja California, Mexico on Oct. 19, 2023. (CalMatters/Miguel Gutierrez Jr.)
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The fumes that wafted through the Tecate streets gave people headaches and left children vomiting. Authorities warned the community it was from a chemical leak at a place called Recicladora Temarry de Mexico.

Lynn La

CalMatters

It’s a recycling facility that’s one of the biggest destinations for California’s hazardous waste. Places like Tesla, Sherwin-Williams, and Sally Beauty Supplies stores have long shipped flammable, toxic liquids here to be treated. Even California’s own government agencies used Temarry, including paint waste from the state prisons and ink from the agency that prints government forms.

Throughout this year, we’ve been investigating how California’s companies and governments handle toxic waste. In this latest installment, CalMatters reporters Robert Lewis and Wendy Fry dug deep into what happens when the Golden State’s toxic waste crosses international borders and discovered that Temarry has been dogged by allegations of mishandling waste and covering up the March 2022 leak.

Some of the key takeaways:

  • California companies and government agencies have found it easier and far less expensive to avoid the Golden State’s strict environmental regulations by shipping the waste across borders, including to Mexico.
  • Less than two miles across the border from inland San Diego County, Temarry is a startling example of how California exports the risk from its hazardous waste.
  • The local mayor accused the company in public statements of trying to cover up the March 2022 chemical leak.
  • In court documents, Temarry’s current owner accused its former president and founder of ordering waste illegally dumped into an open pit and misrepresenting on legal documents the type of waste coming from the U.S. to Mexico.
  • The California Department of Toxic Substances Control seems uninterested in getting answers. In fact, the agency has been stonewalling our reporters for months, ignoring a Public Records Act request for nearly nine months. Under law, they’re supposed to respond within 10 days.

One of California’s top hazardous waste regulators acknowledged the state should be making sure its hazardous waste isn’t harming people outside of state lines.

  • Katie Butler, the Department of Toxic Substances Control’s hazardous waste management program deputy director: “I think we have a responsibility to make sure our decisions here in the state — they don’t disproportionately impact other vulnerable communities and that may mean vulnerable communities in other countries.”

Asked if the department is doing that, she was unequivocal: “No.”

Read more from Robert and Wendy about Temarry here. Read the entire toxic waste investigation here. And catch up on a November panel discussion with state officials on the issue.

Sign up for CalMatters newsletters at this link.

About the Author

Lynn La is the WhatMatters newsletter writer. Prior to joining CalMatters, she developed thought leadership at an ed-tech company and was a senior editor at CNET. She also covered public health at The Sacramento Bee as a Kaiser media fellow and was an intern reporter at Capitol Weekly. She’s a graduate of UC Davis and the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism.

About CalMatters

CalMatters is a nonprofit, nonpartisan newsroom committed to explaining California policy and politics.

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