Our View | Getting Serious: Stop the Stench

Our View

By The Signal Editorial Board

It’s a stinkin’ mess.

Now that we have your attention — looking at you, every elected official who represents the Santa Clarita Valley — we are asking you to put your foot on the gas and keep the pedal mashed to the floor until the Chiquita Canyon Landfill problem has been solved, once and for all.

Other than L.A. County Supervisor Kathryn Barger, it seems like most legislators whose districts include the SCV, and specifically the Castaic and Val Verde communities closest to the landfill — Republicans and Democrats alike — have been a little slow to react since The Signal first started reporting on it last summer. 

But this week, local legislators expressed their willingness to step up to the plate and do something to help their constituents. It took news of enforcement actions from both the state Department of Toxic Substances Control and the federal Environmental Protection Agency to get us there, but we’re not here to quibble.

We’re here to ask, “What’s next?” 

Because all of this attention focused on the massive problem that the Chiquita landfill has become is useless if it does not translate into concrete action from the people and government agencies responsible for protecting these communities.

There are many who want the landfill closed, now. In fact, attorneys representing residents impacted by the nauseating stench filed a petition in L.A. County Superior Court this week demanding that the county shut Chiquita  down. Whether that will succeed remains to be seen and may play out over a lengthy period of time. 

But those demanding that Barger and/or the county just shut it down unilaterally are not being realistic. The county would certainly face some vexing legal entanglements with Chiquita should it attempt to order the landfill closed. 

And, Barger can’t just close it. She doesn’t have the authority to do that — and, based on the information she has received from  government agencies that oversee such things, she has come to conclude that doing so wouldn’t solve the problem anyway.

We’ll take Barger at her word on that, because unlike basically everyone else who represents the SCV, she got involved in the issue as soon as it became evident last summer that this problem was more than just an occasional report of someone complaining that the trash dump smells bad. So, she has given herself a head start in terms of depth of knowledge.

In short, this is a serious problem. It stems from an older section of the landfill, where trash has been decomposing, festering, heating up and sending noxious fumes into the air and toxic liquids onto the ground. It’s a hazardous waste oven in there, just cooking toxicity by the day, by the hour. 

It’s not the “new” trash that’s causing the problem. It’s the “old” trash festering in the depths.

It’s more than just an odor, too. It’s a potential public health crisis and environmental disaster, with toxic leachate potentially contaminating underground water supplies that could impact downriver communities west of the landfill.

Unraveling and fixing the problem will be more complicated and time-consuming than most people would like. It may ultimately take coordinated legal action. 

And, yes. At some point, it may demand that the landfill be forced to close. That option absolutely needs to be on the table, even if it’s not something that can or should be done immediately.

The agencies involved so far are a veritable alphabet soup of government acronyms. In addition to the DTSC and EPA, the state Water Resources Control Board, the South Coast Air Quality Management District, CalRecycle, and the L.A. Regional Water Quality Control Board all have some level of responsibility and authority.

As part of her next steps, Barger has called for a briefing at Tuesday’s Board of Supervisors meeting that will have the Public Health, Public Works and Regional Planning departments present their findings in front of the board. 

Now, Barger has been joined in the fight by local legislators Assemblywoman Pilar Schiavo, D-Chatsworth, state Sen. Scott Wilk, R-Santa Clarita, and Rep. Mike Garcia, R-Santa Clarita. 

That’s good news, because this will take a unified front and steady, consistent pressure on the county, state and federal levels to keep the ball moving toward an end zone that now seems distant. 

This week, Schiavo and Wilk threw their support behind Barger’s call for the company that owns the landfill, Texas-based Waste Connections, to provide relocation assistance to the residents most impacted by the stench.

The company has indicated a willingness to provide some assistance to those residents, in addition to the funding Barger has previously ensured would go from the company to residents for things like air filters and utility bill assistance — an especially significant problem in the heat of the summer. 

Garbage smells bad. Hot garbage smells worse.

Ask those closest to the landfill and they will describe a debilitating stench that causes medical symptoms, least of which would be headaches, and makes the community unlivable.

So, while the county, state, federal government and the operator try to sort out the eventual removal of the problem, it only makes sense to help the residents remove themselves from the situation. 

What form will that take? Answers from Chiquita come slow. This week, when the EPA announced its order that Chiquita must take immediate steps to protect human health and the environment at the landfill, it took more than 36 hours for the company to issue a statement in response. 

And what about the relocation assistance? Chiquita has pledged to release details and inform residents what it’s willing to do sometime within 45 days. Barger asked for it Feb. 8.

Meanwhile, breathe carefully, folks.

All of this adds up to what we’ve called for above: A unified, bipartisan front, led by those elected to represent the people of the SCV, including specifically Val Verde and Castaic, to maintain constant pressure on Chiquita and the various government agencies that have the enforcement authority to do something about it. 

We thank Barger, Schiavo, Wilk and Garcia for their willingness to lead. We applaud them for that, and we applaud them in advance for doing what will be needed. We’re counting on them to be vigilant, for as long as needed, keeping up the pressure on the landfill and the varied enforcement agencies to make the communities surrounding the Chiquita landfill livable again. 

Stop the stench.

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