Chiquita accused of releasing ‘misleading’ statements on potential health impacts
]Representatives from the South Coast Air Quality Management District on Tuesday criticized Chiquita Canyon Landfill for its response to an ongoing crisis at the Val Verde facility that’s been responsible for 113 violations, as well as allegations that the landfill has put out “misleading” statements about the potential health impacts of its problems and that it failed to report those problems in a timely manner.
“We are here because the South Coast District of the AQMD found out about the leachate seepage, which has been going on since prior to the (September) abatement order but had not been disclosed to either the district or this board,” said Kathryn Roberts, senior deputy district counsel for the AQMD. She added that she was providing context for the AQMD Hearing Board.
“The district, through another regulatory agency, learned that leachate was seeping out of the surface of the landfill in early October,” she said.
It was previously reported in The Signal that the landfill learned of the seepage in April.
“Chiquita is making extensive efforts to address this reaction and committing significant resources to address this reaction and scores of employees and contractors to fix problems,” said Megan Morgan of Beveridge & Diamond, attorney for landfill operator Waste Connections, during Chiquita Canyon’s opening statement.
A big concern, according to the AQMD, is that the sampling data provided by the landfill has been unreliable, and a key takeaway from what they do know, according to Andrea Polidori, assistant executive officer for the AQMD, has been that the testing to date indicates there need to be more thorough and consistent testing data available.
The presence of benzene that showed up in relatively recent data shared with the agency also prompted concerns discussed at the meeting.
Chiquita’s counsel sought to explain during Tuesday’s meeting why it was asking for more flexibility and time to respond to what regulators called an “aggressive but feasible” timeline.
After more than six hours of discussion Tuesday, Hearing Board chair Cynthia Verdugo-Peralta called for the board to reconvene at 9:30 a.m. Wednesday in hopes that the hearing could be concluded then. AQMD staff expressed doubt over whether that was possible based on the complexity of the stipulated order and that some of the order is being disputed by Chiquita Canyon.
Hearing Board issues
Both sides agree that there is a problem that needs to be addressed, according to Roberts. That’s the good news.
But the bad news, Roberts added, is that on the timeline for the fix there is disagreement, and disagreement on how far apart both sides are over the new proposed stipulated order, a series of conditions under which the landfill can continue to operate, according to each side’s opening statements.
AQMD officials sought to challenge the landfill’s claims of cooperation and transparency early on during the hourslong hearing, with one of the first witnesses, Stephen Dutz of the AQMD, recalling an incident in which the AQMD was denied an opportunity to test samples near the leachate seepage soon after the initial leak was discovered.
“On Oct. 17, 2023, South Coast AQMD, in coordination with LA Fire/Hazmat agents, conducted an unannounced inspection and attempted to collect samples of the leachate exposed to the air from (Chiquita Canyon’s) property,” according to supporting documents in the district’s order. “Respondent denied access to collect samples of the leachate. South Coast AQMD collected air samples at both the fence line and within the nearby community at that time. Respondent permitted South Coast AQMD to collect samples of the leachate on Oct. 20, 2023.”
The initial results noted concerning levels of benzene in some of the tests, Dutz said.
Benzene is identified as a cancer-causing substance by the National Institute of Health. It is used “primarily as a solvent in the chemical and pharmaceutical industries … and in gasoline,” according to the NIH.
Dutz said anything about 0.5 parts per billions would be detectable, a threshold for exposure was around 8 ppb, and a singular test indicated a level of around 69 ppb, which Dutz confirmed was a “significant and concerning result.”
The test was the only one that exceeded the state threshold, but the test was taken Nov. 9 and later reported to the AQMD. One of the issues Roberts brought up was the timeliness of when information is being shared.
The AQMD’s evidence also referenced a letter from the L.A. County Department of Public Health that a pair of doctors issued Oct. 6, which reviews a conclusion drawn by an Arkansas-based consultant paid for by the landfill, the Center for Toxicology and Environmental Health.
Waste Connections’ consultants issued a report after a few weeks of monitoring that stated the landfill’s problems present “no evidence of increased health risk to the community” in an Oct. 2 memo.
“This (Public Health) review has determined that CTEH’s conclusive statement in the Memorandum: that after its ‘review of the continuous air monitoring and discrete air sampling data, there is no evidence of increased health risk to the community’ is not supported by sufficient data or analysis, is premature and misleading,” according to the letter.
“Can we say for certain there is a clear community impact from the landfill?” Roberts asked Dutz near the end of his questioning.
“It appears there is an impact from the community in the landfill, yes,” he replied.
Evidence from CTEH includes a defense of its assessment as a proactive effort intended to inform the public, which was why much of the “technical jargon” was omitted, and that its conclusion, which it also reported in October and December, was “based on an analysis of all the data provided by SCS in its August 2023 report.”
Dutz would later go on to say the AQMD was recommending additional monitors because the mobile ones deployed by Waste Connections did not produce reliable data, which was a contention backed by Polidori.
It also came out during Dutz’s testimony that the landfill never reached out to the AQMD for advice on where to place its air-monitoring stations, which would be common practice, Dutz said. He also said the results of testing from the monitors closest to the landfill were only shared with AQMD last week.
Dutz said the landfill should make whatever monitoring data it has available in real time. Counsel for the landfill later cited language in its version of a new stipulated agreement that called for the creation of such a website.
South Coast AQMD staff shared their issues with Chiquita Canyon over access and information Tuesday, indicating a different relationship than the L.A. County Planning officials have claimed. County Planning Director Amy Bodek previously described the landfill as very cooperative during a conference call in November, after the landfill was hit with violations over its nondisclosure of plans and the leak. The Department of Regional Planning for L.A. County is the technical enforcement agency for the landfill’s conditional use permit.
Bodek said the county has a “working relationship with Chiquita,” and the company “indicated that it is their intent to continue to work very cooperatively with us to resolve these issues as quickly as possible.”
Waste Connections response
During her opening statements, Waste Connection’s counsel questioned the feasibility of the AQMD’s proposed stipulated orders, the timeline that the AQMD countered was aggressive but feasible. The agency is asking for new, additional continuous monitors to be up and running within 75 days.
“We are pleased to share the current evidence suggests the elevated landfill reaction area is not growing in size,” Morgan said.
“Chiquita cannot give a definitive timeline for improvement for the community, but Chiquita’s expert team remains cautiously optimistic that this reaction is heading in the right direction,” she said, adding the landfill has gained “valuable experience” over the past few months.
Morgan said CTEH’s work contribution has been to raise “questions about the type of data collected and its contribution to a meaningful analysis, which has led to authorize system and mitigation measures to minimize impacts on the community and increasing collaboration and communication with the South Coast AQMD,” she said, and then called the AQMD’s attempt to remove CTEH as essentially illegal.
The conditions in the updated, 53-page proposed stipulated order posted with the board’s agenda include the landfill’s need to respond to leachate seeps 24 hours a day, seven days a week, which the facility argued is not always feasible.
The conditions include the timeliness of reporting the information about leachate and air monitoring: “By Jan. 19, 2024, respondent shall provide South Coast AQMD with access to all real-time continuous monitoring data for PM2.5, PM10, and H2S recorded at all monitoring stations,” according to one of the stipulations.
Areas of disagreement
One of the main areas where the district and Chiquita disagreed, according to Roberts, is over the wording of the timeline in Chiquita’s response to the stipulated order.
She said Chiquita’s plan lacks any dates other than compelling the landfill to get a work plan in place within 30 days for the installation of the monitors, and then to have the monitors installed within 75 days of that, if it’s deemed feasible and not impacted by issues outside of the landfill’s control.
The agency believes it’s possible for the landfill to have the monitors operational within 75 days.
AQMD officials argued Tuesday in front of the board that the testing was needed as soon as possible to get all the data necessary to determine not only all of the sources of the health concerns, but the nature and degree of the problems.
An L.A. County Public Health official stated there’s significant evidence to indicate there are impacts to residents’ health from exposure to landfill gases like dimethyl sulfide, such as respiratory irritation, nausea and headaches.
The county is expected to put out a report next month, although the questions about the available testing data — pending the installation of continuous monitoring devices as AQMD has requested — raise questions about how such a report could have all the necessary information.
L.A. County Supervisor Kathryn Barger, whose 5th District includes the Santa Clarita Valley, issued a statement Tuesday afternoon saying that her “expectations remain unchanged” regarding the landfill.
“Chiquita Canyon Landfill’s proprietor and management team have a duty to act urgently and transparently to stop the odors from impacting the surrounding community,” she wrote in an email shared by Helen Chavez, her director of communications. “I will examine every possible legal consequence and course of action should it be found that a good-faith effort is lacking. This is why I directed the county to conduct an independent health assessment to ensure that we have an unbiased, impartial and transparent results to share with the community and to drive any future decisions related to the landfill and its operations.”
A list of the evidence presented to the Hearing Board can be found here:
Mike Mohajer Comment Letter with Enclosure Petitioners Exhibit Index, Petitioner’s Exhibit 4, Petitioner’s Exhibit 5 , Petitioner’s Exhibit 6, Petitioner’s Exhibit 7, Petitioner’s Exhibit 8, Petitioner’s Exhibit 9, Petitioner’s Exhibit 10, Petitioner’s Exhibit 11, Petitioner’s Exhibit 12, Petitioner’s Exhibit 13, Petitioner’s Exhibit 14, Petitioner’s Exhibit 15, Petitioner’s Exhibit 16, Petitioner’s Exhibit 17, Petitioner’s Exhibit 18, Petitioner’s Exhibit 19, Petitioner’s Exhibit 20, Petitioner’s Exhibit 21, Petitioner’s Exhibit 22, Petitioner’s Exhibit 23, Petitioner’s Exhibit 24 , Petitioner’s Exhibit 25, Petitioner’s Exhibit 26, Petitioner’s Exhibit 27, Petitioner’s Exhibit 28, Petitioner’s Exhibit 28 (Excerpt), Petitioner’s Exhibit 29, Petitioner’s Exhibit 30, Petitioner’s Exhibit 31, Petitioner’s Exhibit 31 (Excerpt), Petitioner’s Exhibit 32, Petitioner’s Exhibit 33, Petitioner’s Exhibit 34, Petitioner’s Exhibit 35, Petitioner’s Exhibit 36, Petitioner’s Exhibit 36 (Excerpt), Petitioner’s Exhibit 37, Petitioner’s Exhibit 38, Petitioner’s Exhibit 39, Petitioner’s Exhibit 40, Declaration of Neal Bolton Declaration of Robert E. Dick, Supplemental to Declaration of Robert E. Dick, Declaration of Patrick Sullivan, Declaration of Srividhya Viswanathan, Declaration of Pablo Sanchez Soria, Respondent’s Exhibit Index, Respondent’s Exhibits, Respondent’s Modified Conditions-Contested Removed, Respondent’s Modified Conditions-Contested Removed (Redlined), Respondent’s Exhibit K