Neither Chiquita Canyon Landfill nor the South Coast Air Quality Management District are sure how to stop the stink that’s prompted hundreds of complaints from Castaic and Val Verde residents, according to the discussion at a regulatory hearing Wednesday.
At the all-day session, the hearing board for the South Coast AQMD ordered actions that Chiquita Canyon Landfill’s operators must undertake to continue operating in the Santa Clarita Valley.
Air regulators and the landfill’s operators agreed to terms after more than eight hours of discussion, which included public comment, sworn testimony from experts and a history of how the facility came to be considered a public health nuisance that needs to be abated.
“I think that this, in my particular opinion, this is such an important issue and it is affecting the community in such a huge way, that I think that we do need to have as much information in front of us,” said Cynthia Verdugo-Peralta, chair of the AQMD hearing board, during one of the requests for more time to discuss the issue Wednesday.
The board found good cause for the stipulated orders, which are intended to provide a short-term alleviation of the smell as well as look at long-term fixes, according to lawyers for the air regulator.
AQMD staff, in response to hundreds of complaints, is looking to force Chiquita Canyon Landfill to address “an ongoing public nuisance” that’s daily affecting Castaic and Val Verde residents, and requires abatement from the board, according to Kathryn Roberts, an attorney for the AQMD.
Wednesday’s hearing was driven by months of violations, said Roberts, who laid out the agency’s concerns and why it was taking an “unusual posture” in terms of seeking an abatement order against the landfill.
There have been more than 1,800 complaints that have led to 58 violations for a nuisance over the smell, according to officials.
“To the best of our knowledge today, the reaction creating the landfill gas, excess sulfur and excess liquid at the landfill is ongoing — in fact it has the potential to increase,” said Roberts.
For months, residents have been complaining about odors they’ve likened to rotting garbage, which are especially noticeable in the morning hours prior to 9 a.m. and then pick back up in the evening around 9 p.m.
A landfill official noted the smell is often somewhat dissipated by winds during the day, which is why the intensity picks up in the evening.
The smell also prompted more than two dozen residents to file a class-action lawsuit against Chiquita Canyon and L.A. County seeking to have the facility shut down over the smell and their claims of health issues related to the odor.
Health issues were part of the discussion Wednesday, with county Public Health officials and a consultant from Chiquita Canyon discussing the impacts of the gas.
The landfill has acknowledged in the past deficiencies in its monitoring systems and has committed to expanding those efforts. The landfill presented testimony from consultants who discussed the efforts that have been made so far to reduce the smell, as well as what is known about the landfill gases, or LFG, that have been plaguing the community.
The abatement order is needed to address several areas, Roberts said, including short-term actions to lessen odors and their impacts, as well as long-term ongoing violations.
The orders from the AQMD call for the landfill to immediately install vapor odor controls at the reaction area, which are expected to reduce the impact of the odors; implement past odor mitigation strategies learned from its previous case with Chiquita, which was in 2021, after the landfill had received 500 complaints the previous year about the smell of fresh trash and LFG;
add an impermeable cover to the particularly problematic sections of the landfill; and implement sulfur-reducing conditions. Also in the short-term actions, the landfill is working to expand its landfill gas-collection system, which is expected to also reduce the odor.
Chiquita Canyon’s lawyers described the problem as “a rare underground reaction that will require collaboration and the rapid deployment of significant resources to address,” according to Megan Morgan, counsel for the landfill.
Touting a “team of industry-leading experts,” the landfill’s lawyers talked about the efforts the landfill has undertaken in an effort to remedy the problem, which have to date yet to yield “real tangible progress.”
The problems began in February, according to the AQMD, when Chiquita first asked for a variance and was ordered to conduct a root-cause study over the odor that prompted the variance. AQMD officials noticed the problems, and the number of complaints, only seemed to grow with subsequent variances.
Roberts said the landfill identified the problem as a chemical-based reaction, causing sulfur to concur in greater quantities than had been seen or that its equipment on site could capture.
The orders issued Wednesday are valid for one year, and a follow-up hearing is scheduled for Jan. 16, 2024.