A South Coast Air Quality Management District official issued a notice of violation for Chiquita Canyon Landfill odors being detected at Live Oak Elementary School after more than 150 complaints were received, according to air agency officials.
“Complaints were received from surrounding neighborhoods in the Castaic area, including from Live Oak Elementary School and Castaic Elementary School,” according to an email sent Friday evening from Kim White of the South Coast AQMD Media Office. “A team of inspectors was deployed to respond to the complaints, and we were able to confirm odors at Live Oak Elementary School and at multiple residences in and around Val Verde.”
Jennifer Elkins, a Live Oak parent, contacted The Signal early Friday afternoon to share concerns about the smell she detected Friday morning while dropping off her second- and fifth-grade students.
She said she shared her concern with the school, which also contacted the AQMD with a concern, she said. Elkins then said in a phone interview Friday afternoon around 2 p.m. that she received a confirmation call later in the day from Larry Israel, a supervisor with the AQMD, who confirmed the notice of violation was issued.
Previously, Israel has said six verified complaints trigger an automatic notice of violation.
Israel confirmed that multiple complaints were investigated Friday afternoon but referred all press inquiries to the AQMD’s media office, which indicated it was working on a response to the inquiries Friday afternoon.
Elkins said her primary concern Friday was what the school district was going to be doing to protect children who might be getting exposed to the smell, she said.
“I’m concerned. I’m sure other parents are concerned, too,” Elkins said, adding she was concerned if her two kids were being forced to run around in a smell that residents have described as akin to “rotting garbage.”
Elkins said she had not yet heard from the district as of about 2 p.m.
Castaic Union School District Superintendent Bob Brauneisen said the district was aware of parents’ concerns about the landfill, as well as how the reports have gotten worse this year.
Part of the challenge the district was faced with was a lack of what he referred to as “concrete information” regarding the exact nature and the harm from the landfill gases, but he was sympathetic to parental concerns, he added.
“You have to take each day as a different situation,” he said.
In discussing the issue, he did mention a few things he wanted parents to be aware of, the first being that school site staff are aware of the smell and concerns, and as the situation calls for it, the campus could treat the issue like a heat day, if the smell becomes overwhelming, and keep children inside.
Inside the classroom, the students and staff have the benefit of industrial-strength air conditioners that were purchased during the COVID-19 pandemic but now provide “a double benefit,” Brauneisen said.
A Chiquita Canyon Landfill official confirmed the violation Friday. The landfill tracks all of its violations on its website, which had more than 60 as of earlier this week.
“Chiquita continues working diligently in addressing odors emanating from the landfill caused by an unusual reaction occurring deep within an older section of the landfill,” according to an emailed statement from Steve Cassulo, district manager for Chiquita Canyon on Friday. “Elimination of the odors from the gas can best be done through the expansion of the landfill’s existing flaring system. That addition of flaring capacity relies on permits and regulatory approvals by the South Coast Air Quality Management District, which are currently in process.”
Cassulo also offered a reminder about the landfill’s free air-filter program, although residents have expressed frustration with the efficacy and size of the filters. In past public meetings, Cassulo has mentioned the landfill is working to expand the program to get multiple filters available for each resident.
Since the beginning of the year, a subsurface reaction at the landfill has been causing the release of dimethyl sulfide, a smelly, sulfide-based landfill gas, at a level much higher than the renewable-energy facility can capture it.
The situation has led to more than 2,500 complaints from residents since the beginning of the year, according to the AQMD, and at least one lawsuit, which names the county and the landfill and seeks the landfill’s closure.
At an AQMD hearing last week over the numerous violations, a number of remedial actions were ordered.
White also wrote Friday the agency has an “active, ongoing investigation” into the matter, and “South Coast AQMD is doing everything within its authority to support local residents who are being impacted by odors from the landfill.”
Residents can submit air quality complaints by calling the agency’s complaint hotline (1-800-CUT-SMOG), via the complaint reporting portal on our website (www.aqmd.gov), or through the AQMD mobile app.
A status hearing to follow up on the landfill’s progress is expected to happen by Jan. 16 or as soon after that date that it can be scheduled with the hearing board, according to the agency’s release.
The explicit orders from the AQMD effective immediately require Chiquita Canyon to:
- Conduct odor surveillance at least twice daily during operating hours at 32 locations around the landfill until a three-week period passes without receiving a notice of violation. If South Coast AQMD issues a subsequent NOV, odor surveillance would resume.
- Maximize the use of specified landfill gas flares for combustion of landfill gases, with requirements to sample, analyze, record and report compounds combusted in each flare.
- Submit a monthly written report on the landfill operation, landfill gas flares and treatment system and efforts to resolve the total sulfur concentration in the landfill gas.
- Organize a committee of experts to investigate and find the cause and solution to the subsurface chemical reaction causing the elevated levels of sulfur and report to South Coast AQMD detailing the findings by April 30, 2024.
- Expand its gas well system and continue to evaluate and install extraction wells to collect both landfill gas and leachate and monitor each gas collection system at least monthly for temperature.
- Visually inspect the landfill cover each operating day and make needed repairs, and install a geosynthetic cover to limit the migration of landfill gas from the site.
- Maintain and update on a weekly basis an odor mitigation section on its website at chiquitacanyon.com/reports/odor-mitigation, including Spanish translation.
The county’s most recent action on the landfill was to release up to $2 million from a community benefit fund from the landfill to support residents who had incurred costs due to problems associated with the landfill, such as increased power bills from running their air conditioners to reduce the smell.