DTSC: Who We Are and What We Do

DTSC's Mission Statement and Strategic Plan

The mission of DTSC is to protect California’s people and environment from harmful effects of toxic substances by restoring contaminated resources, enforcing hazardous waste laws, reducing hazardous waste generation, and encouraging the manufacture of chemically safer products.

Our Vision

Californians enjoy a clean and healthy environment, and as a result of our efforts:

  • Communities are confident that we protect them from toxic harm
  • Businesses are confident that we engage them with consistency and integrity
  • Consumers are confident that we stimulate innovation in the development of safer products

How We Are Organized
Overview of DTSC
Toxics Questions
Laws, Regulations & Policies
Overseeing Site Cleanup
Regulating Those Who Manage Hazardous Waste
Encouraging Pollution Prevention
Science and Technology
DTSC’s External Advisory Group

How We Are Organized

The Department of Toxic Substances Control, or DTSC, protects California and Californians from exposures to hazardous wastes. DTSC operates programs to:

  • deal with the aftermath of improper hazardous waste management by overseeing site cleanups;
  • prevent releases of hazardous waste by ensuring that those who generate, handle, transport, store and dispose of wastes do so properly;
  • take enforcement actions against those who fail to manage hazardous wastes appropriately;
  • explore and promote means of preventing pollution and encourage reuse and recycling;
  • evaluate soil, water and air samples taken at sites and develop new analytical methods;
  • practice other environmental sciences, including toxicology, risk assessment, and technology development; and
  • involve the public in DTSC's decision-making.

Overview of DTSC

Each year, Californians generate two million tons of hazardous waste. One hundred thousand privately- and publicly-owned facilities generate one or more of the 800-plus wastes considered hazardous under California law. Properly handling these wastes avoids threats to public health and degradation of the environment.

The Department of Toxic Substances Control (DTSC) regulates hazardous waste, cleans-up existing contamination, and looks for ways to reduce the hazardous waste produced in California. Approximately 1,000 scientists, engineers, and specialized support staff make sure that companies and individuals handle, transport, store, treat, dispose of, and clean-up hazardous wastes appropriately. Through these measures, DTSC contributes to greater safety for all Californians, and less hazardous waste reaches the environment.

What follows are brief descriptions of the various functions and activities that DTSC's dedicated staff perform on behalf of Californians and their environment.

Toxics Questions

DTSC maintains open communication with the diverse publics it serves in a variety of ways. The Public Participation program is nationally recognized as the most proactive example of its type for citizen involvement. Statute and policy mandate a community involvement program that creates a dialogue with stakeholders when DTSC is cleaning-up a site, reviewing a permit application or engaging in other regulatory activities. Moreover, DTSC recognizes that public involvement in its decision-making process ultimately results in better environmental risk management decisions. DTSC's 30 Public Participation Specialists hold more than 350 meetings, hearings, briefings and panel discussions each year, and produce at least 350 public notices and fact sheets to keep residents informed of their opportunities to get involved.

Regulatory Assistance Officers, Hazardous Substances Scientists with a combined total of 45 years experience in DTSC, provide a critical service to the public. Their full-time job is to respond to inquiries from the regulated community, environmental firms, other agencies, and the public. They receive hundreds of calls and e-mails per week requesting information that runs the gamut from navigating DTSC's Web site to assistance in classifying waste. They report to the Regional Coordinator who works with the management teams in the four major regional offices and two satellite offices to ensure that the tools and policies of DTSC are in place so that the Department's work is carried out effectively. They also serve as liaisons to the public by representing DTSC through presentations, task force representation, and ombudsman functions.

Being accessible, accountable, and relevant is crucial to public service. DTSC works toward those goals by communicating with individuals, regulated businesses, community groups, media and other government agencies. Each year, DTSC staff members grant an average of 750 media interviews and send out 100 press releases. These actions keep the public informed of DTSC activities that may affect them such as site cleanup, enforcement, and permitting actions throughout the State.

Outreach and Web site staff members provide information to community members, local governments, and environmental groups. They find or create outreach opportunities to educate target audiences affected by DTSC's activities. Also, DTSC administers environmental justice programs in cooperation with Cal/EPA, the Governor's Office of Planning and Research, and civil rights organizations throughout the State. As an element of outreach, DTSC proudly supports the Governor's School Mentor Program. The Mentor Program offers staff an opportunity to mentor at-risk youth. This program contributes to the Governor's goal of recruiting, training, and matching quality mentors to reach one million California youth. The web coordinators work with DTSC program staff to present current and relevant information on the world wide web, and work with the Web site programmers to ensure that information is presented in the most accessible manner possible.

Laws, Regulations & Policies

DTSC regulates hazardous waste in California primarily under the authority of the federal Resource Conservation and Recovery Act of 1976, and the California Health and Safety Code. Other laws that affect hazardous waste are specific to handling, storage, transportation, disposal, treatment, reduction, cleanup and emergency planning.

In addition, DTSC reviews and monitors legislation, as many as 200 bills each legislative session, to ensure that the position reflects the Department's goals. Staff legislative specialists coordinate DTSC's response to all proposed legislation that may positively or negatively affect the Department. Other functions include developing legislation, coordinating with lawmakers, and responding to constituent complaints.

From these laws, DTSC's major program areas develop regulations and consistent program policies and procedures. The regulations spell out what those who handle hazardous waste must do to comply with the laws. As is the case with environmental risk management decisions, these rulemakings are subject to public review and comment.

The California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) was signed into law in 1970. The basic purposes of CEQA are to inform governmental decision-makers and the public about the potential, significant environmental effects of proposed activities; identify the ways that environmental damage can be avoided or significantly reduced; prevent significant, avoidable damage to the environment by requiring changes in projects through the use of alternatives or mitigation measures when the governmental agency finds the changes to be feasible; and to disclose to the public the reasons why a governmental agency approved the project in the manner the agency chose if significant environmental effects are involved. The Department of Toxic Substances Control (DTSC) is subject to the requirements of CEQA because it is responsible for carrying-out or approving various hazardous waste-related projects having the potential to impact the environment. In fiscal year 2009/10, DTSC prepared over 140 CEQA environmental documents for public review and processed over 1800 outside agency environmental documents submitted to DTSC for its review by other agencies. More information regarding DTSC"S compliance with the requirements of CEQA can be found at: http://www.dtsc.ca.gov/LawsRegsPolicies/ceqa.cfm.

Twenty-two attorneys provide legal guidance for the Department. They primarily engage in environmental advocacy and litigation ranging from prosecuting environmental violations and revoking permits, to cost recovery and collecting environmental fees.

Overseeing Site Cleanup

DTSC is committed to establishing and implementing protective and consistent cleanup programs and standards that can serve as a model for California and the nation. An estimated 90,000 properties throughout the State - including former industrial properties, school sites, military bases, small businesses and landfills - are contaminated, or believed contaminated, with some level of toxic substances. Some of these are "brownfields," sites that often sit idle or underused, contributing to both urban blight and urban sprawl. 

DTSC cleans-up or oversees approximately 220 hazardous substance release sites at any given time and completes an average of 125 cleanups each year. An additional 250 sites are listed on DTSC's EnviroStor database of properties that may be contaminated. Expediting cleanups is an important goal of the program, and a series of "Brownfields" initiatives support that effort. The Voluntary Cleanup Program and the California Land Reuse and Revitalization Program encourage responsible parties to clean-up contaminated properties by offering economic, liability, or efficiency incentives. DTSC also encourages property owners to investigate and clean-up contamination if found, through a combination of low-interest loans. The Investigating Site Contamination and Cleanup Loans and Environmental Assistance to Neighborhoods (CLEAN Loans) Programs provide loans to investigate and clean-up urban properties. At present, funding for the Loan Program is extremely limited, but in 2001, DTSC received 11 loan applications for $7.9 million. The State Superfund covers sites for which there are no cleanup options through the responsible party and which threaten the people or the environment of California.

Additionally, DTSC works to ensure that all new, existing, and proposed school sites are environmentally safe. State laws require all proposed school sites that will receive state funding for purchase or construction to go through DTSC's environmental review. This process ensures that new school sites are uncontaminated, or if previously contaminated, that they have been cleaned-up to a safe level. Last year, DTSC assessed, investigated, or cleaned up more than 450 different school sites in California to ensure that the State's need for new schools is met and children are fully protected.

California has one-third of the closing military bases in the country and more than 1,000 former defense sites. DTSC is currently investigating, cleaning-up, or providing technical assistance at more than 160 current or former military installations statewide. This task presents some unique challenges including addressing residual unexploded ordinance, chemical and biological munitions, and otherwise toxic substances that remain on the property.

DTSC's Emergency Response Program provides immediate assistance during sudden or threatened releases of hazardous materials. Trained responders clean-up illegal drug labs, working with law enforcement agencies to remove toxic chemicals at roughly 2,000 labs per year. They have participated at more than 10,000 labs since 1995. They also clean-up hazardous substance spills related to off-highway transportation and natural disasters. DTSC crews are ready to go into an illegal drug lab, a train derailment site, or an earthquake-damaged area to remove dangerous substances before people are injured.

In addition, DTSC continues to have lead responsibility for cleanup and enforcement at several high profile federal Superfund sites including Casmalia Resources and Stringfellow. DTSC provides day-to-day operation at these sites from the Stringfellow on-site Pre-Treatment Plant, groundwater extraction wells and other containment systems to the monitoring and treatment systems.

Regulating Those Who Manage Hazardous Waste

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (U.S. EPA) authorizes DTSC to carry out the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA) program in California. Permitting, inspection, compliance, and corrective action programs ensure that people who manage hazardous waste follow state and federal requirements.

DTSC has permitted more than 130 major commercial facilities to treat, store, and dispose of hazardous waste in California. The Department uses a streamlined tiered permitting process to regulate the 5,000 businesses that perform lower-risk treatment and different permits cover hazardous waste generation, transportation, and recycling. In addition, DTSC tracks and monitors hazardous waste from its generation to ultimate disposal.

Ensuring compliance through inspection and enforcement is an important part of effectively regulating hazardous waste. DTSC conducts roughly 200 inspections a year, resulting in as many as 30 new enforcement cases. The investigators also provide technical and investigative support to federal prosecutors and district attorneys prosecuting environmental crimes. Also, DTSC investigators and inspectors respond to nearly 1,000 citizen complaints about hazardous waste each year. They refer most of these complaints to local government.

DTSC's Criminal Investigations Branch has the only law enforcement officers in the California Environmental Protection Agency (Cal/EPA). These peace officers, with the powers of arrest, and search and seizure, investigate alleged criminal violations of the Hazardous Waste Control Law. They work closely with district attorneys' offices, the federal Environmental Protection Agency, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, and law enforcement personnel in other states.

DTSC also oversees the implementation of the hazardous waste generator and onsite treatment program, one of the six environmental programs at the local level consolidated within the Unified Program. Seventy-two Certified Unified Program Agencies (CUPAs), which are generally part of the local Fire Department or Environmental Health Department, have authority to enforce regulations, conduct inspections, administer penalties, and hold hearings. DTSC participates in the triennial review of the CUPA's to ensure their programs are consistent statewide, conform to standards, and deliver quality environmental protection at the local level. This includes working closely with the CUPAs, and providing technical assistance and training.

Other innovative strategies DTSC uses to minimize negative environmental and public health effects from past, present and future generations include hazardous waste recycling and resource recovery. These efforts facilitate recycling and reuse of hazardous waste. The waste evaluation program assists in waste determinations to identify what substances and in what concentrations are harmful. The household hazardous waste and agricultural chemical collection programs focus on removing dangerous substances from homes and preventing their release into the environment through landfills, sewer systems and illegal dumping. DTSC also conducts a corrective action oversight program that assures any releases of hazardous constituents at generator facilities that conduct onsite treatment of hazardous waste are safely and effectively remediated.

Ensuring that the State has sufficient hazardous waste storage, treatment and landfill capacity is part of this process. DTSC collects and analyzes information about current and future waste generation to determine what the needs are and the most effective ways to address them.

Encouraging Pollution Prevention

Pollution Prevention (P2) focuses on source reduction - eliminating or reducing the toxicity of a hazardous pollutant. Source reduction is preferable to recycling and treatment options because it avoids waste costs and management liability. It also provides the best protection for public health and the environment. The Hazardous Waste Source Reduction and Management Review Act requires hazardous waste generators to seriously consider source reduction as the preferred method of managing hazardous waste. DTSC uses this and other tools to motivate generators to consider and implement pollution prevention options.

For pollution prevention to be successful, everyone has to participate, so DTSC works to educate businesses and individuals. Teams create informative publications to help people use fewer hazardous substances. Speakers travel throughout the state, and DTSC's Web site now makes a vast store of knowledge available in moments. Recent efforts have included targeting education and outreach efforts toward specific industries that generate hazardous waste such as vehicle service and repair and petroleum refineries.

Cooperation between DTSC and other agencies or organizations such as CUPAs, trade associations, and local government programs is essential to reaching source reduction goals. DTSC representatives participate with local committees, boards, and agencies to ensure ongoing communication. DTSC also actively supports the Bay Area Green Business program that promotes P2 by recognizing "green" businesses, and many other local initiatives. At the annual Pollution Prevention Conference, 150 members of the pollution prevention community across California meet to discuss methods and progress. In addition, each September local agencies and organizations participate in Pollution Prevention Week by sponsoring more than 100 educational events throughout the State to make businesses and citizens more aware of opportunities to prevent pollution.

DTSC works to integrate pollution prevention strategies throughout its programs, in the regulatory and operational sense, and through each individual. From inspectors in the regional offices and scientists at the lab, to clerical staff in the headquarters, everyone works toward reducing hazardous substances, limiting waste, and preserving the environment. Capitalizing on innovative technologies has made California a national leader in developing better solutions for managing hazardous wastes.

Science and Technology

Scientific accuracy is the cornerstone of DTSC's efforts from classifying waste to assessing risk. DTSC's scientists are experts at identifying concentrations of toxic chemicals in air, water, soil, sludge, hazardous waste streams, and biological and human tissues. They regularly provide cutting-edge information about the composition and risks of toxic substances, helping to avoid exposure that may be dangerous to children and adults. At the same time, developing new analysis and treatment methods for hazardous substances contributes to fewer exposures in the future.

DTSC's experts provide consultation and support worldwide in toxicology, industrial hygiene, and human and ecological risk assessment. The CalTox spreadsheet model, which was developed by DTSC staff, computes site-specific health-based soil cleanup concentrations, and LeadSpread is a tool for evaluating lead exposure. These scientists also research and prepare guidance documents, departmental policy, and legislation governing hazardous wastes. Other science staff responsibilities include supporting other DTSC programs by analyzing site samples, classifying and defining wastes, and testing cleaner technologies. The industrial hygiene staff deal with protecting workers from chemical and hazard exposures by monitoring, setting exposure limits and developing worker safety guidelines.

DTSC concentrates scientific operations at the Environmental Chemistry Laboratory, an analytical chemistry laboratory with facilities in Berkeley and Los Angeles. Chemists provide sample analysis, data validation, data interpretation, and review sampling analysis plans and quality assurance program plans. Finally, staff members conduct basic and advanced training courses encompassing sampling plans and techniques, analytical procedures, and data interpretation.

DTSC's Environmental Technology Certification Program, winner of the 1996 Innovations in Government Award, fosters development of emerging technologies to improve environmental quality. This unique program helps developers bring their ideas to market and eases the regulatory burden by taking advantage of DTSC's tiered permitting system. Since the program began in 1994, DTSC has certified 25 hazardous waste environmental technologies. They include a more efficient oil filter; improved hazardous waste containment technology, two formaldehyde treatment methods for hospitals, an ozone generation and treatment system, and faster or less-expensive monitoring technologies for detecting contaminants in soil and water. Forming interstate and international partnerships has enhanced acceptance of these technologies beyond our borders, resulting in major economic and environmental benefits.


What began as a small unit within the California Department of Health Services has grown to a 1,000-person Department meeting many of California's environmental challenges. DTSC now has regional offices in Sacramento, Berkeley, Glendale, and Cypress and satellite offices in Clovis and San Diego. With this expansion, a support structure has developed to meet the Department's unique needs.

As the problem of hazardous substances in our communities continues to grow and change, DTSC must match it with skilled and qualified personnel. DTSC has very specific talent requirements. The Department's staff includes roughly 189 Hazardous Substance Scientists, 110 Engineers, 41 Geologists, 20 Toxicologists, 10 Industrial Hygienists, and 30 Public Participation Specialists. The remainder of DTSC's staff provide various types of technical administrative support.

DTSC supports a healthy working environment free of discrimination and ensures equality in all aspects of personnel management practices and policies for department employees and applicants. The Department provides employee training on EEO issues such as Preventing Sexual Harassment classes, management training on the Americans with Disabilities Act and Reasonable Accommodations. When necessary, staff members conduct investigations in response to complaints and provide consultation on how to handle discrimination or harassment.

Training of all types is essential to enhance organizational effectiveness and foster continued improvement. DTSC arranges or conducts training on a range of subject areas including technical, general and management classes that are responsive to new and existing staff needs, program changes and innovations. Taking care of employees is a critical element to maintaining a high-performing staff, therefore, DTSC operates an effective Employee Recognition Program, which is reviewed periodically to ensure that it is meaningful to the staff.

DTSC's financial support comes from State funds, special funds and from federal and other reimbursements. The special funds include hazardous waste activity fees established in the Health and Safety Code, such as permit fees. In addition, the Department makes every effort to recover State funds used in oversight or remediation of contaminated sites from the parties who are legally responsible for the contamination. This important process supports much of DTSC's work and developing a fee policy that promotes stability, revenue neutrality, and flexibility is essential. DTSC has the authority to recover its costs for overseeing corrective action done by owner/operators of permitted hazardous waste facilities. Cost Recovery has averaged $11 million per year in recent years, including reimbursement costs from Voluntary Cleanups. These efforts are successful due to a commitment by all DTSC staff members to carefully track and report all costs and time by site or project.

Budgeting, fiscal systems, accounting, and overseeing revenue projections are traditional functions in a government agency of monitoring and reporting expenditures to ensure consistency with state and federal requirements. Other needs include finding and buying goods and services. These functions are all critical to program effectiveness and DTSC's ability to execute its mission of protecting public health and the environment.

Increasingly, the backbone of any organization is its information management function. DTSC is no exception. A staff of 55 Information Systems Analysts and Programmer Analysts conduct applications programming and development, manage local and wide area networks, troubleshoot desktop computers and maintain the Department's office automation system. In addition, they ensure that DTSC's Web site is technically sound and compliant with the Governor's E-Government Initiative.

DTSC’s External Advisory Group

This group is comprised of representatives of various communities of interest served by the DTSC. (A community of interest is not geographic body, but is instead based upon the interest stakeholders have in a site or issue). These include Environmental Groups, representatives from Industry, individuals from local communities, and others who want to share their thoughts and ideas on how DTSC operates. More info: http://www.dtsc.ca.gov/InformationResources/external_advisory_group.cfm