No short-term solution in sight for Chiquita  

Chiquita Canyon Landfill. Eddy Martinez/The Signal.

Federal and regional regulators issued statements this week and community members continued to express frustration over the problems at Chiquita Canyon Landfill. 

A representative from the L.A. Regional Water Quality Control Board also confirmed Thursday someone would be at the next meeting to discuss an update on the water. 

The company’s response, by its own account, might have to make the growing problem even worse before it gets better in the coming months. 

The landfill has drawn more than 6,000 complaints and 100 violations over a growing stench caused by what CalRecycle described as a smoldering, subsurface reaction. This is producing amounts of dimethyl sulfide, an odorous landfill gas, as well as leachate, which is the liquid byproduct of the same reaction, at levels that have been overwhelming the landfill’s regular abilities to capture the leachate and the smells, for months. 

The latest development has been the addition of a task force with federal representatives, including the Environmental Protection Agency, and state water officials, who are stepping into taking another look at mitigation efforts that have been in the works for months but to date largely ineffectual in stemming the stench. 

“On Nov. 30, local, state and federal agencies formed a multi-agency task force to address concerns raised about the operations and overall state of the landfill at Chiquita Canyon. U.S. EPA is helping lead the task force,” according to an email from Michael Brogan, press officer for the EPA.  

“The task force’s highest concerns are possible health and environmental impacts, especially those raised by community members. The overarching purpose of the task force is to coordinate among the regulatory agencies and marshal our collective expertise, resources, and tools to find short- and long-term solutions to the environmental and public health issues at the landfill.” 

The Los Angeles Water Board, which was made aware of potential leachate concerns in late September, also issued a statement this week in response to its role in the task force.  

It’s been working on the issue, including orders that have been given to the landfill, since October.  

Part of the recent problems the landfill is currently having stems from the heavy rains the area received last year, according to the water board.  

“The increase could be attributed to the abnormally high rain precipitation in the 2022- 23 rainy season as well as chemical reactions within the municipal waste mass, which can increase the rate of leachate production,” according to an email shared by Ailene Voisin, information officer for the State Water Board, which was attributed to LA Regional Board staff.  

Reports obtained by The Signal from Chiquita indicated the landfill’s leachate production exceeded 1 million gallons per week in October, and a representative for Chiquita said Tuesday he hoped the production was nearing its peak. The level of production has been steadily worsening since April. 

In April, the leachate seepage was observed as having reached the soil near the western border of the landfill and by August, it was observed in the northern border. 

The water board also cited the landfill and “directed the landfill operator to immediately correct the above cited violations and submit a written report by Dec. 22, 2023.” 

Frustration over the growing number of complaints was evident in some of the comments from the public and members of the landfill’s advisory committee, which hosted its monthly meeting at Castaic Library on Tuesday as well as virtually, 

“I don’t believe the response is adequate and I suspect it’s primarily here to protect the company and not to help the public. That’s my conclusion,” said Gary Horton, a member of the Chiquita Canyon Landfill Advisory Committee who also owns a business with offices not far from the landfill. 

“All of this has added up and added up,” he continued, referring to how the committee has seen the dominos fall “and they keep falling.” 

“My employees are now complaining,” he said, referring to his Valencia Commerce Center location. “I’ve heard Amazon employees complaining,” he added, referring to a distribution warehouse near his office. “I could smell it at (Highway) 126 at 5 in the evening.” 

John Perkey, legal counsel for Chiquita Canyon Landfill, said the landfill was meeting the state and federal requirements for testing. It was also testing land outside of its containment system, which had notably failed several months ago, and the company was testing land between the end of its collection system and the edge of its property toward the Santa Clara River. 

He also noted that regulations make it difficult for the landfill to test outside of its borders. 

But Horton said that’s exactly what needs to happen before the landfill and the committee is being asked to test to the river because there’s a known problem. 

Perkey also said work still needs to be done on some of the wells and systems at the landfill which is necessary before a cover can be placed over the troubled part of the landfill. That work could end up in the odors temporarily getting worse for the sake of long-term improvements. 

Ultimately, the testing was requested, according to Bob Lewis, a member of the advisory committee, in a phone interview after the meeting. 

“The task force intends to join or host a community meeting in late January or early February, with exact date, time and location to be determined soon,” according to Brogan’s email. “There will be a virtual option for those unable to attend in person. Representatives from the agencies will be there in-person, and we want to hear from community members and other stakeholders directly.” 

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