Dr. Gene Dorio: Landfill expansion: It’s about being a good neighbor

Dr. Gene Dorio

I am a 30-year resident of Santa Clarita, and I do not live in Val Verde. As a physician, though, if an epidemic was spreading in this nearby town, I would rise up and battle to protect our entire community.

The presence of an expanding Chiquita Canyon Landfill close to our neighborhood should alarm every citizen in this valley, especially those with children.

The Santa Clara River and this valley’s two aquifers provide 50 percent of the drinking water consumed in this valley, as well as water for residents downstream below the landfill. Even though Chiquita is lined, all landfills eventually leak and it may seep into the river near the proposed Newhall Ranch project.

Many aspects of community health are based upon government assuring we have clean air and clean water. In the last decade, a major threat to Santa Clarita was Cemex, an out-of-country-based mining company seeking to open a quarry at the east end of the Santa Clarita Valley.

The Santa Clarita City Council, with state and federal elected representatives, came out to battle this company from aerosolizing harmful particulates into the air and destroying roads with heavy trucks and debris.

Now, an out-of-state company has requested expansion of Chiquita Canyon Landfill in Val Verde, not only adding unhealthy particulate matter to the air and trucks on the roads, but also potentially jeopardizing the water supply of downstream communities.

Have any of our political leaders battled against this community threat? No. Over the past two decades, Chiquita Canyon made sure it established itself as “Good Neighbors,” so using this mantra gave its backers fodder for expansion support letters.

The company has also spread money around this valley into businesses and political coffers, seeking support despite the dump expansion’s threat to public health and safety.

As a runner, I have seen and smelled waste management trucks leak bacteria-laden liquids staining our streets, and I know they are destined for Chiquita Canyon Landfill. Driving Highway 126 many times, I have detected this same odor. Val Verde has been transformed into “Foul” Verde because of the stench.

What perplexes me even more is if the Newhall Ranch development is built across from this dump on Highway 126, the new houses and elementary school will be close by.

I’m not sure why parents would expose their children to these air pollutants. Plus, they will be receiving some piped-in water from the Castaic Lake Water Agency, a company that violated state law in testing drinking water last year (The Santa Clarita Valley 2016 Water Quality Report, page 5).

For newcomers to Santa Clarita, water wells from aquifers have been shut down in the past for contamination. There is a laundry list of various chemicals, yet the source is unknown and believed to be from unregulated disposal of material by several central-SCV manufacturers starting in the 1940s.

No, we have not found elevated levels of lead as they did in Flint, Michigan, but substances such as perchlorate are now being removed from our groundwater. While Flint’s water contamination was caused by corrosive water affecting the pipes, people were hurt because oversight agencies failed to properly test their water.

Not surprisingly, there is ample scientific evidence of aquifer bacteria contamination from landfills dating back decades. Analysis of these microbiologics have been limited by water supply agencies and may today be a hidden source of community illness.

Therefore, we need to force local agencies to analyze drinking water and uphold their fiduciary duty mandated by law.

What if microbiologics are found in downstream drinking water? How will supplies be replaced? How will these small towns afford the substantial clean-up costs?

Recently, the Los Angeles County Regional Planning Commission heard arguments against expansion of Chiquita from many Val Verde and Santa Clarita residents, but the commission still approved the contract extension.

Those in favor stated there is nowhere else to dispose of county garbage. Really? Yet they would rather jeopardize the health of citizens in our valley than find an alternative?

Los Angeles County is vast but is mainly populated in the south and central areas. There are plenty of unpopulated areas in the north and east regions that might accommodate a new landfill accessible to waste management trucks, yet away from human-use rivers and aquifers. Unfortunately, this takes time, planning and money.

Right now there is an answer already built with taxpayer money. The Mesquite Landfill is already approved and operating in the desert 20 miles from any residence and in an area with very low rainfall, reducing landfill leakage.

It is a rail-haul facility that is easily accessible.

Eventually, the Chiquita Canyon Landfill expansion issue will be brought forward to the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors for a final vote.

As a resident of this community, it is now your duty to rise up and battle to protect our families and children.

That will make us all “Good Neighbors.”

Gene Uzawa Dorio, M.D. is a Saugus resident with a Master’s in toxicology.

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