Garcia calls for Chiquita landfill closure 

A sign points to the entrance of Chiquita Canyon Landfill in Castaic. Dan Watson/ The Signal
A sign points to the entrance of Chiquita Canyon Landfill in Castaic. Dan Watson/ The Signal
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Schiavo issues call for state declaration of emergency 

Rep. Mike Garcia, R-Santa Clarita, called on Chiquita Canyon Landfill to cease operations while the facility addresses its growing problems, during a virtual address to the landfill’s Community Advisory Committee on Tuesday night, acknowledging county and state regulators’ growing frustration over problems at the Castaic facility. 

Assemblywoman Pilar Schiavo, D-Chatsworth, announced the state Department of Toxic Substances Control elevated its look into the problems at Chiquita Canyon Landfill to its criminal investigations desk, after learning the facility was sending toxic leachate to a Gardena facility not equipped to handle such chemicals. 

Schiavo also sent a letter to Gov. Gavin Newsom, asking him to declare a state of emergency related to the landfill. 

Despite the growing severity of problems for the community, responses Tuesday indicated local, state and federal officials are all working on the problem, but not necessarily from the same playbook. 

The requests by Garcia and Schiavo seemed to run in conflict with the call to action L.A. County Supervisor Kathryn Barger was seeking from the state, based on her response to the request Tuesday afternoon.   

A truck leaves Chiquita Canyon Landfill in Castaic on Tuesday. Dan Watson/ The Signal
A truck leaves Chiquita Canyon Landfill in Castaic on Tuesday. Dan Watson/ The Signal

Garcia’s statement  

Calling the federal Environmental Protection Agency the “umpire” as his federal nexus to get involved in his virtual address to the committee, Garcia said from Washington, D.C., that he’s “assuming a worst-case scenario right now, until someone proves me wrong,” with respect to the landfill’s problems.  

He reiterated his commitment to determining the cause, mitigating the problem and investigating whether there was any malfeasance.  

“I also think from my perspective after having been in the area and hearing everything from the residents and understanding the data that we’ve been collecting to this point, that prudence would suggest that we stop operations,” Garcia said. “I understand the county does not have the authority to do that unilaterally without a blessing from Sacramento and I understand that some of our elected officials in Sacramento are working on that issue. So, I think it’s very important until we fully characterize how bad this is, that we cease operations and look at alternative sites so that we can actually not just aggravate the problems but also to give full access to the testers.” 

He also offered support for Schiavo’s call for a state of emergency, and said he was sending a letter in the next 48 hours that Schiavo, D-Chatsworth, and Sen. Scott Wilk, R-Santa Clarita, signed on to, calling on Newsom to declare a state of emergency at the landfill.  

It’s the latest of a series of letters aimed at cleaning up the ongoing mess of smells and toxic chemicals coming from Chiquita Canyon Landfill. 

Schiavo’s request 

The Los Angeles County Public Health Department’s declaration of Chiquita Canyon Landfill as a public nuisance, along with elevated findings of benzene and carbon tetrachloride,  underscores the need for action, Schiavo wrote in the request. She also called the landfill a “public health and environmental crisis that’s happening in our backyard.” 

Schiavo said the DTSC’s elevated response was due to alarming finds the agency has made in recent months. 

“They issued multiple violations on Feb. 15 after doing some monitoring,” Schiavo said in a virtual appearance from Sacramento. “That one was particularly concerning because not only are people in the immediate area being impacted, but then we found out they had been transporting the toxic leachate and having it treated at a water-treatment plan that was not permitted to treat toxic materials, and then after they treated it, they put it into the L.A. (County) sewer, which could become an environmental disaster for our whole region.” 

During the meeting, John Perkey, vice president of Waste Connections, which operates the landfill, also said the facility reported it was aware of at least one occurrence during a recent storm where the landfill’s leachate was found to have reached a stormwater basin that ultimately drained into the Santa Clara River. 

A representative from the DTSC’s criminal enforcement division later stated the leachate they tested shortly after that incident storm did not indicate toxic levels.  

Leachate concerns 

The landfill is currently pumping leachate out of its soil at a clip of about 1 million gallons a month, and the landfill’s soil is settling at a rate of about one foot per month, with an average level being about 6 inches per year, according to reports from regulators.  

“We just feel like this is an urgent situation and we need all hands on deck to really address this crisis in our community that’s impacting public and environmental health,” Schiavo said in a phone interview Tuesday. 

“The request came about through just figuring out all of our options on the table at the Assembly level and wanted to make sure that we don’t leave any stone unturned,” she added. 

She said she’s been in contact with the governor’s office Tuesday but hadn’t heard back on the status of the request yet. 

“The communities of Val Verde and Castaic, as well as nearby schools, have endured prolonged exposure to noxious gases causing reported headaches, nausea, asthma, nose bleeds, heart palpitations, and more,” the letter states. “A community survey I conducted found that residents have missed work and school, had to evacuate their homes, nearly a quarter spending over $1,000 to address its impacts, and nearly all have had direct health impacts to themselves or a family member.” 

Schiavo noted the EPA’s recent declaration in her letter, but said the governor’s declaration is needed because “the situation is untenable for residents, and they need the full support of the state for emergency assistance for relocation and additional state action to mitigate its impact.” 

Response to emergency request 

Barger announced a website published Monday by Chiquita Canyon Landfill in response to her request for relocation fees last month to help residents who are impacted by the landfill’s pollution problems. 

Chiquita Canyon Landfill officials also discussed the community benefit program and how residents can sign up at the community meeting.  

“We welcome the continued discussion with, and support from, all of our federal, state, regional and local regulatory authorities, as well as any additional resources from the state of California to deal with the elevated temperature landfill (ETLF) event,” according to a statement from Steve Cassulo, district manager for Chiquita Canyon Landfill, issued prior to the meeting. “Last month, Chiquita created an Incident Action Plan and team at the landfill to lead the on-site coordination of mitigation efforts. This team has been working closely with the EPA-led multiagency taskforce to bring about a swift resolution to the issue.” 

Barger and Schiavo have sent letters back and forth over the landfill crisis. 

Schiavo said she sent a letter to state agencies Feb. 22 following a community protest in Castaic.  

Barger, frustrated by concerns over a unilateral county action against the landfill, sent a letter to Schiavo on March 4 asking for her “immediate assistance,” which Schiavo said her office responded to that day.   

Barger issued a response to Schiavo and Garcia’s letter to the governor Tuesday evening, which seemed to indicate the request wasn’t the type of help the county was seeking. 

“Proclaiming a local state of emergency has not been on the table for several reasons,” Barger wrote in a statement released after Tuesday’s meeting. “An emergency proclamation is an administrative tool with a clear, predefined purpose. It enables government to both exercise limited emergency powers to protect life and property and is used to obtain state and federal support due to a lack of resources not being available through other means.  

“In this incident, state and federal agencies are already engaged. There are no unresolved local requests for additional support. Chiquita Canyon Landfill is engaged in taking steps to address the odors and the problematic conditions occurring onsite,” she added. 

Growing concerns 

The worsening situation at the landfill since February 2023 has drawn the attention of more state regulators. 

Monday evening, a State Water Board official shared an explanation for its recent denial letter to the landfill regarding an application filed in 2022 to expand, as part of an expansion master plan from 2017.  

“On March 1, the L.A. Regional Water Quality Control Board denied a water quality certification application submitted by Chiquita Canyon LLC, on Jan. 4, 2022, related to the proposed expansion of its landfill operations,” according to the statement shared Monday evening by the Jackie Carpenter, media relations director for the State Water Resources Control Board. “The proposed expansion project is part of the 2017 Chiquita Canyon Landfill Master Plan to increase disposal capacity at the existing facility over a 30-year period.   

“The application was denied due to the fact that the Chiquita Canyon Landfill operators provided insufficient information for the board to evaluate whether an expansion would comply with the federal Clean Water Act and appropriate state-law water-quality requirements,” according to Steve Cassulo, district manager for Chiquita Canyon Landfill. “This insufficient information includes, but is not limited to, details to further assess potential impacts to surface water and groundwater linked to the current conditions and ongoing multi-agency response at Chiquita Canyon Landfill.” 

A DTSC official said Tuesday a website has been set up to update residents on its actions with respect to the landfill: dtsc.ca.gov/chiquita-landfill. 

Community meeting  

These ongoing problems, as well as challenges the county anticipates from the landfill, are why Barger has called on the state to help with its closure in recent weeks. 

Schiavo said she also is trying to put together an Assembly hearing in the district, which would be a unique opportunity for residents to express their concerns in front of state and federal officials, which the community deserves. A date has not yet been set for that, but Schiavo said she was working on dates in the coming weeks. 

An EPA official said there would be a community meeting at 6 p.m. March 21 at Castaic Middle School, which would discuss the EPA’s recent order, which is intended to accomplish two things: control and contain the reaction that’s causing the smells and the leachate; and to control any off-site impacts. 

“The main point is to hear comments and concerns and hear your questions,” said Thanne Berg, who was representing the EPA through a virtual appearance Tuesday.  

A Chiquita Canyon official also said the landfill now tests all leachate before it leaves the site.  

An L.A. Regional Water Quality Control official also said Tuesday the agency didn’t believe it had detected evidence of contamination to the groundwater supply. There was expected to be more discussion at the March 21 meeting. 

However, the water official also noted that it received multiple complaints that included photo and video evidence of potential violations that occurred within the last week, which the agency “is taking very seriously.” 

A resident asked during the question-and-answer portion Tuesday night if her decision to seek the landfill’s assistance fund would preclude her from suing the landfill over any alleged deceit.  

“We can’t comment on any active litigation,” Perkey said.  

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