System tracks hazardous waste
- By Dibya Sarkar
- May 23, 2002
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,
The system also will contain up-to-date information about regulated
businesses, adding 25,000 new businesses a year while deactivating the same
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,
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,
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.