Fifth District L.A. County Supervisor Kathryn Barger held a half-hour news conference Wednesday morning in what’s becoming a more regular occurrence: More emergency orders have been announced against Chiquita Canyon Landfill over its odor, a problem that’s continued to expand since July despite orders from local, state and special district regulators.
The most recent set of 15 mitigation measures were given in response to a report this week from CalRecycle, the state agency that manages recycling and waste-management programs and has “specialized technical expertise in solid waste management,” according to Dr. Nichole Quick, deputy director of the Department of Public Health’s Health Protection Bureau.
The landfill has 48 hours to respond and begin implementation of an order regarding repairs to the soil cover at the site of the reaction causing the odor, according to county officials. “All the other mitigation measures will take time to implement, and Chiquita Canyon has until Friday of this week (Oct. 20) to provide a response,” according to an email statement Wednesday from Helen Chavez, communications director for Barger’s office.
In CalRecycle’s letter, of the 15 mitigation actions identified, there is only one that has hard, specified deadline: repair the soil cover along the impacted area w/in 48 hours (pg. 18).
When asked about the possibility as to whether the county had any recourse if the landfill decides to challenge the orders in court, as it has in similar orders from L.A. County counsel, Amy Bodek, director of Regional Planning for L.A. County, the technical enforcement agency for the landfill’s permit, said the county has a “working relationship” with the landfill.
“Right now, we have a working relationship with Chiquita and they have indicated that it is their intent to continue to work very cooperatively with us to resolve these issues as quickly as possible,” Bodek said.
“From a business perspective, this is really bad for them as well, and so at this point, we are in a cooperative relationship with them,” she continued. “And they have been very responsive to our requests.”
Minutes after the news conference, a Chiquita Canyon Landfill official who watched the conference issued a statement in response to the county’s announcement of CalRecycle’s report and a request for comment on the landfill’s intent to comply. The statement indicated the landfill would “respectfully disagree” with the report’s characterization of the problem.
“We continue to work cooperatively with the landfill’s regulatory oversight agencies and take very seriously our role in the safe operation of the landfill,” said the statement from Steve Cassulo, district manager for Chiquita Canyon Landfill. “Having reviewed CalRecycle’s root cause analysis, we respectfully disagree with the characterization of this landfill reaction as a ‘smoldering’ incident. Despite this disagreement, we are working to quickly address the recommendations as outlined by CalRecycle, many of which Chiquita has already been implementing for months.”
Residents looking for answers to the questions about their health concerns — some of those most impacted by the landfill have filed a lawsuit, complaining of everything from headaches to nausea as the result of an odor — won’t be able to breathe a sigh of relief just yet.
While a consultancy firm paid for by the landfill indicated based on its review in September of August data that there was no health risk from the landfill gases detected at that time, Quick said Wednesday that accurate results from the county would take months and a comprehensive report was expected sometime in 2024.
“The county will be retaining an independent human health consultant who will conduct a completely independent analysis of short- and long-term health impacts, including collecting independent samples of gases and other potential pollutants that are being released,” Quick said. “I want to be very clear that we are working to get residents comprehensive and accurate information about the potential health impacts of this odor incident. That collection, testing and analysis of air quality monitoring data takes time. We expect to have the independent human health assessment report available early next year.”
County officials also reaffirmed their commitment to an independent analysis of the gases causing the odors, which have previously been publicly identified as dimethyl sulfide, a sulfuric compound common in landfill gases that neighbors have said smells like rotting garbage.
The smell has spread over the past few months, exacerbated by things like heat and rain, according to a South Coast Air Quality Management District official who also spoke Wednesday as a representative of one of the regulatory agencies involved.
While there may have been disagreement over the characterization of the problem, which could be related to the ongoing legal battles associated with the landfill, residents and its regulators, CalRecycle’s report essentially backed up what landfill officials have been saying for months: The stink is being caused by an older section of the landfill that was, according to Chiquita Canyon, not properly handled by previous landfill operators.
That mishandled waste is now decomposing and causing a subsurface reaction that creates soil temperatures in excess of 145 degrees, according to the state’s experts.
The new mitigation orders and 48-hour timeline include an order for the landfill to put at least 24 inches of soil on top of the smoldering waste pit as well as a geomembranous cover that are both supposed to help with the smell. Repairs to cracks in older wells and additional steel wells in the reaction area are also part of the immediate order.
The landfill has earned thousands of complaints as a result of the smell and more than two dozen violations since Sept. 1. A violation issued Oct. 6 came with a new notice to comply, with the AQMD requesting information for a leachate seep that was discovered, as well as information regarding when it was discovered and where. That information is due to the AQMD by Friday, according to the order. The landfill tracks all of its violations on its website, per a stipulation of its operating permit.
The landfill has worked to implement a number of measures to mitigate the smell.
The measures have included covers and industrial-sized blowers and, most recently and significantly, a new flare permit that’s expected to help the facility capture more of the gases that are causing the odor nuisance. The flare works with an extraction-well system the landfill also is building, and they are expected to be online by the middle of next month, according to Cassulo. He expects that equipment to have a pretty immediate impact, he said recently.
A lawyer for L.A. County also confirmed Tuesday the county is not seeking enforcement of a request issued in September that the landfill reduce its daily trash intake by 35%.
“Chiquita appreciates the county’s close collaboration on this matter as we urgently work to address the unusual events at the landfill and mitigate the odors,” was the response sent by Chiquita’s lawyers Sept. 6. “However, as explained in detail below, no reduction in waste intake will lessen the current odors, which emanate from deep inside the landfill at a different location than where incoming waste is deposited.”
The move would only damage the local businesses that rely on Chiquita, the response added.