AQMD to consider additional regulations for Chiquita 

Chiquita Canyon Landfill. Eddy Martinez/The Signal.
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Emails from Chiquita Canyon Landfill indicate operators were aware of a leachate-seepage problem in April, observed it spread in August and reported it Oct. 18 to the South Coast Air Quality Management District, after an Oct. 6 notice to comply was issued by the agency.  

The landfill shared its emails to the AQMD ahead of a hearing scheduled next week in which the regulatory agency is expected to consider additional violations over the landfill’s alleged failures  to report leachate issues and adequately report excavation plans for a troubled area. 

The landfill reported actions it was taking in response to odor complaints once the complaints became widely reported in July. 

A smoldering, subsurface reaction at the landfill, which operators have attributed to the improper handling of waste by the previous owners, has prompted thousands of complaints and a class-action lawsuit. 

Representatives of the South Coast District for the AQMD have refused to make any comment on the record or release any information about its findings from Chiquita ahead of the hearing, citing a policy that forbids comment on ongoing investigations. 

AQMD officials indicated in November there could be additional restrictions placed on the landfill. 

But residents have questioned if that’s a workable solution, as the landfill now has around 6,000 complaints on the year and 100 violations, which are a routine occurrence listed on a website the facility has set up to track community concerns. 

A lawsuit from area residents has nearly doubled its number of plaintiffs since its first filing, with around 200 residents now listed as plaintiffs. 

Background on next week’s hearing  

Following an Oct. 6 inspection at Chiquita Canyon Landfill, inspector Gerardo Vergara issued a notice requiring the landfill to produce all of the maintenance records for its stormwater-collection system; when the leachate seep was discovered and the locations where the seepage was discovered; and all records for how much leachate has been disposed of since January and where the leachate was dumped. 

“South Coast AQMD inspectors saw leachate seeping out of the ground and out of gas-collection wells,” according to a Nov. 17 news release announcing the violations. “The investigation revealed that the facility’s leachate collection and storage system was malfunctioning and that the company failed to notify the agency as required by air quality regulations. Additionally, inspectors determined that the facility did not submit a landfill excavation management plan before beginning excavation activities to remove leachate from the site.”  

A representative for the landfill, John Perkey, vice president of Waste Connections, publicly addressed the news release in a Zoom call, explaining the problem as the liquid byproduct of the same chemical reaction that creates the odorous gases plaguing the landfill.  

He said the leachate has not leaked out of the site.  

However, he did not explain why landfill officials waited until AQMD inspectors found the leak to report it. 

An email from Chiquita also notes that the landfill does not have records specific to when the leachate seeps were first discovered, and that a map they supplied was the best indicator of locations. 

That’s likely part of the discussion that’s going to take place at the AQMD hearing board meeting scheduled for 9:30 a.m. Tuesday. The meeting can be viewed at the following link: aqmd.gov/home/library/webcasts

The hearing board has no agenda listed for the meeting, just a list of the two cases for review, with Chiquita Canyon’s being the second one. 

The next Chiquita Canyon Landfill Community Advisory Committee meeting is 6 p.m. Tuesday at Castaic Library, which is at 27971 Sloan Canyon Road in Castaic.

Chiquita Canyon Landfill seepage  

“As an overview, pressure from excess gas and liquids caused by the reaction resulted in a portion of the western slope of the reaction area moving off of the landfill liner,” according to an email Tuesday from John Musella, a spokesman for the landfill. 

In response to a request for the emails ahead of Tuesday’s hearing, Chiquita officials shared with The Signal their responses to the AQMD’s requests. 

“As we noted in our Oct. 18, 2023, email, we began to observe leachate seepage in the western stormwater channel beginning in April 2023,” read one email, which also identified several grids on an attached map where the seepage was being observed. “Beginning in August 2023, we began to observe additional leachate seepage on the north side of the landfill reaction area, small amounts of which are draining into the northern stormwater channel.”  

Landfill officials said they’re “now working on a tracking system to more clearly identify the amount of leachate pumped out of the stormwater channels.” 

During the virtual call, Perkey said the landfill had installed a series of earthen check dams around the stormwater channels to ensure none of the leachate has left the facility. 

“Vacuum trucks pumped out liquids that had accumulated on the surface or in the channels, transport them to onsite leachate storage tanks and eventually transport them offsite for disposal,” according to an email sent to the AQMD. 

Between March and June, according to data provided by the landfill, the volume of leachate being disposed of from its seeps went from 500,000 gallons to 750,000 gallons per week, to a peak of just over 1 million gallons per week in October, the latest data available. 

The smell associated with the landfill’s nuisance violations has been spreading, based on complaints received by the AQMD, which is the agency that responds to complaints. The agency is now hearing concerns from as far as Lake Hughes Road to the north and Stevenson Ranch to the southeast. 

Lawsuit and response  

One of the biggest questions residents have been waiting for answers on is the possible health concerns associated with the landfill’s problems, which is also the subject of a lawsuit filed in October. 

Those most closely impacted, Val Verde residents who’ve listed a number of health problems they’ve attributed to the landfill, are part of a party of about 200 residents who want to see the landfill shut down. The most recent Census data available indicated about 3,177 people live in the rural community just north of the landfill. 

County officials have said a number of times that it would likely be early next year before the results of an independent study of the potential health impacts would be available. 

A spokeswoman for L.A. County 5th District Supervisor Kathryn Barger, who represents the area that includes the Santa Clarita Valley, said while leachate is under the AQMD and state water board’s jurisdiction, the supervisor was pushing officials to work with the state and try to understand the concerns. 

“Many residents of Val Verde and surrounding communities are reporting that they have significant health problems, including headaches, lightheadedness, dizzy spells, asthma, other breathing conditions, rashes, cancer and tumors,” according to an email Tuesday from Oshea Orchid, the lead attorney for the plaintiff. She is also one of two representatives for Val Verde on Castaic’s advisory town council. 

“Ultimately, I’d like to shut down the landfill,” said Steven Howse, one of the first plaintiffs in the suit, who has spoke at public meetings about the impacts he and his family have dealt with from the landfill. 

“I mean to be honest, my biggest thing is I don’t want to know the landfill is there. I don’t want it to affect me and my family,” he said, adding he didn’t care if it operated as long as he didn’t have to worry about the potential health concerns. He also knows there’s no “magic wand” anyone can wave to address his family’s concerns quickly. 

“The odors and the gases along with it,” he added, “because even when it doesn’t smell, we still have health effects.” 

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