Chiquita hosts first forum on landfill problems 

Chiquita Canyon's district manager Steve Cassulo gives a tour of the landfill on Wednesday, March 1, 2017, to members of the public and county commissioners. Katharine Lotze/The Signal
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Blaming the problem on Chiquita Canyon Landfill’s previous operators, Steve Cassulo, district manager for the landfill’s current operator, Waste Connections, said Thursday he’s working as fast as possible to resolve the smell issue that’s been plaguing Castaic and Val Verde residents.  

While the landfill is currently awaiting the processing of a years-old request for a permit to operate a flare that’s supposed to help, Cassulo said the landfill was also working on a number of ways to mitigate the smell in the meantime. 

“We understand the community has experienced heightened levels of odors. We want you all to know that it is doing everything in its power to reduce odors that may be coming from the landfill,” he said in his opening remarks of a community forum on the issue. 

Chiquita Canyon began receiving what’s now more than 600 complaints in April, with the Air Quality Management District issuing notices of violations — a violation is triggered after six substantiated complaints, Dsitrcit Manager Steve Cassulo said — over what operators believe is an older section of the landfill. Signal graphic

Residents who said Thursday the smells have caused everything from headaches to nausea and nosebleeds — symptoms, they say, that don’t appear when they leave home for long stretches and return when they do — pressed for a timeline for the fix. 

“It’s a big window at this point in time because there’s a lot of moving parts,” Cassulo said, mentioning the wait from the South Coast Air Quality Management District.  

“The power plant is running at full speed ahead right now along with our (temporary) flares. We’re looking for another portable unit to add more vacuum to this and the more vacuum we can get on the system, the quicker it’ll alleviate the issue,” he told about 60 or 70 community members who listened in on the call. “So, again, it’s not going to happen overnight. It’s going to be … a month or so before we can get more of this thing fixed. And we’re going to do the best we can to keep eliminating the odors as much as possible in that time period.” 

On the landfill’s website, it reports that the smells are likely being caused by the emission of dimethyl sulfide, an odorous gas that occurs in landfills when organic matter decomposes.  

While some appreciated the landfill’s attempt to answer questions, some questioned the timing of the outreach since the issues began in April and the landfill mentioned a root-cause analysis report it conducted in February that looked at the issue. 

Castaic Area Town Council President Bob Lewis said Thursday was the first of three public discussions the community would have within about a week, with the local Community Advisory Group for the landfill expected to meet 6 p.m. Tuesday at the Castaic Library, and the Town Council to host another discussion on the topic the following evening on Zoom.   

Speaking as a resident, he indicated Thursday before the Zoom call that he would have liked to have had some of the information that’s being put out now a bit earlier, and said that while Chiquita was making itself available now, residents have been complaining for months.  

Landfill officials indicated that while the need for anticipated flares was seen by current operators several years ago, the conditions they’re addressing now come from previous operators in an older cell of the landfill, created during a time when regulations might not have been followed as closely, Cassulo indicated during the Zoom.  

When asked about health concerns, Cassulo acknowledged that his expertise was operations, and that’s what he could speak to, which also frustrated residents.  

“As residents for over two months now, we have not been able to go outside into our yards or open our windows,” said Sarah Olaguez. “We’re having to constantly run air conditioning. Our electrical bills are insane. That’s not talking about the health concerns and I’ve only been a resident for a few years, but I know many other residents that have been here for longer. It feels a little frustrating that we’re not really getting a lot of answers from the landfill and then you decided to have this meeting and don’t really have anybody here that is able to answer our questions and our concerns. 

Cassulo apologized but said his goal was to eliminate the issue, and that the landfill is working to hire a toxicologist who can help the landfill better understand any potential health effects as well as improve its current testing means.  

He also said the landfill has a program to help residents with free air filters. When one resident noted the filters weren’t rated high enough for her home, Cassulo said he was working to make additional units available to residents as soon as the end of the month, once everyone most affected has received one. 

The discussion also indicated that Chiquita can’t currently test the levels for dimethyl sulfide. Its current detection methods include driving around various areas around the landfill where complaints have been lodged and verifying the complaints in person.  

“We know it’s there. We know it’s present. We don’t know the exact levels of it. We’re working on the testing of it. This is kind of a new thing. DMS is very little, it’s very small portion of the components of the gas system itself. … At this point in time, it’s a heightened level,” Cassulo said Thursday. He seemed to indicate Thursday he was able to tell because of the increased smell and the changing levels relative to other gasses the landfill can detect. “I don’t have the exact numbers yet and we’re still working on how to test that and how to get that information,” he added.  

Chiquita Canyon began receiving what’s now more than 600 complaints in April, with the Air Quality Management District issuing notices of violations — a violation is triggered after six substantiated complaints, Cassulo said — over what operators believe is an older section of the landfill.  

To date, landfill operators have stopped short of claiming responsibility for the smell; however, in public statements the company has acknowledged that part of the normal course of operations, as more waste breaks down, these types of smelly byproduct reactions can occur. While landfill officials anticipated the increase with the previous flares request, the uptick in gas production appears to have exceeded their expectation and technological capability. 

Fifth District County Supervisor Kathryn Barger convened a task force of county agencies, including Public Health and Public Works, near the end of the last month, which was given 30 days to come back with a report that clearly identifies the cause and means to reduce the smell. 

The Community Advisory Group, which will feature Cassulo, as well as AQMD officials and members of the task force, is meeting 6 p.m. Tuesday in the Castaic Library meeting room at 27971 Sloan Canyon Road. 

The Town Council is meeting Wednesday on Zoom and the agenda is also going to include a Chiquita Canyon discussion. Here’s the address for the Zoom meeting:

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