System tracks hazardous waste

California is rolling out a secure Web-based system to keep tabs on the disposal of toxic waste

To better track hazardous waste, California is implementing a secure Web-based system for government agencies, manufacturers and haulers to keep tabs on the transport and disposal of used oil and other manufacturing byproducts.

The $1.25 million system was partially launched in mid-March, and other applications will be phased in during the next several months by Michigan-based Covansys Corp. It will largely replace paper-based procedures, which are prone to error and duplication, said Jim Bohon, chief of the Generator Information Services Section for the state Department of Toxic Substances Control (www.dtsc.ca.gov).

Previously, shipping such waste required a six-part paper document, of which two copies went to the department. With about 500,000 shipments annually, the department received 1 million documents, he said. Data from such documents, usually handwritten and sometimes "sloppy," were manually keyed into a 1960s-era mainframe system, Bohon said, resulting in errors and a 45- to 60-day delay in tracking waste.

When fully operational, the new password-protected system will enable companies to complete detailed data online regarding shipments and receive a unique shipping number for each.

The system is designed to ensure that hazardous waste codes and company identification numbers are correct and in compliance, and it would allow for searches by shipping number, chemical descriptions or other parameters. It could even be used to check if waste is being transported properly. The system will kick out questionable data to an analyst for further inspection, Bohon said.

The system also will contain up-to-date information about regulated businesses, adding 25,000 new businesses a year while deactivating the same amount annually.

Several hundred larger companies are expected to tie into the system, said Michael Trovato, Covansys' client executive for the state, and about 30,000 smaller companies will be able to use the system later this year. The department would continue to accept paper documents for other companies, he added.

To encourage participation, the department is mailing out fliers to 116,000 businesses within the next several weeks. A survey conducted two years ago showed the private sector was largely in favor of the system, Bohon said.

Aside from the 1,100 users in the toxics department, 600 employees from other state agencies will be given access as well as another 300 from local and federal governments. The general public will have access to a Web site, expected to be available in July, to view reports and find companies in their neighborhood and see what they ship.

By mid-July, Covansys is slated to add permit, inspection, compliance and enforcement tracking applications, Trovato said. It's also positioned to accept digital signatures and accommodate personal digital assistants, pending approval, he said.

Last year's terrorist attacks spurred many government officials to ask whether hazardous waste and materials were being tracked properly, but California started looking at the issue six years ago.

At the time, Bohon said there were a number of well-publicized incidents in which the department's mainframe system, as a result of human error, spit out a duplicate set of 300,000 unique numbers created for shipments. It spurred a large debate among state lawmakers, who ordered the toxics department to ask industry for a better system, he said.

"In 1998, it was cutting edge for the state legislature to say, 'We're not going to tell industry what we want. We'll say this is what we want in general and you tell us how to do this,' " Bohon said.

In 1999, the department issued a request for information to define requirements. The following year, it released a request for proposals and selected Covansys in November. During the next year, company and department officials crafted a business model, repeatedly honing the processes, design and workflows. In October 2001, Covansys built a prototype.

The new system has generated interest among other states.

"What is coming out of Sept. 11 in dealing with hazardous waste is a desire to track it more closely, make sure that what goes on the road goes on the road, make sure we don't lose things in the process," Bohon said.

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