Pilar Schiavo | Chiquita Canyon: An Update on State’s Response

Pilar Schiavo, Democratic Voices

By now, you’ve likely heard about the crisis at the Chiquita Canyon Landfill. But with so much information being reported, I wanted to break down for you what happened, what we’re doing in response, and what we can expect going forward.  

• What is happening at Chiquita Canyon Landfill? 

Since 2023, an underground heating event of chemical reactions in a closed portion of the landfill has resulted in emissions of toxic gases and toxic leachate, a liquid that’s absorbed chemicals. In response, in early February the Los Angeles County Public Health Department declared Chiquita Canyon a public nuisance, finding elevated levels of toxic chemicals. Not only have these findings been validated by the state Department of Toxic Substances Control and the Los Angeles Regional Water Quality Control Board, but state agencies also issued corrective actions and violations against the landfill, including violations being elevated to DTSC’s Office of Criminal Investigations. Also in February, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency issued a Unilateral Administrative Order, reserved for when findings “may be an imminent and substantial endangerment to the public health or the environment.” 

• How is this urgent crisis impacting the community?

Val Verde, Castaic and nearby schools have endured prolonged exposure to noxious gases causing reported headaches, nausea, asthma, heart palpitations and more. My staff and I have spoken with community members directly and through a survey we conducted and found that residents have missed work and school, evacuated their homes, nearly a quarter spent over $1,000 to address the impacts, and nearly all have had direct health impacts to themselves or a family member. Neighbors even reported the sudden death of family pets in their yard. 

• What have state agencies done thus far to take action?

While county Public Health is the immediate oversight agency and lead enforcement agency, multiple state agencies also have regulatory authority. Under the leadership of the U.S. EPA, a multi-agency coordination group is now onsite at the landfill, just as is done in emergency situations, bringing together all agencies to allow for daily coordination with the landfill operator.

In addition to violations mentioned above, other regulatory actions taken include: CalRecycle inspected the landfill and issued two enforcement actions around gas monitoring and maintenance. DTSC issued a number of violations related to hazardous waste mishandling. The U.S. EPA found exceedances of surface emissions of methane, and the U.S. EPA and L.A. Regional Water Quality Control Board inspected wastewater and stormwater draining into the Santa Clara River. 

We’ve attended meetings of the Chiquita Canyon Landfill Community Advisory Committee; escalated concerns with state agencies including DTSC, CalRecycle, State Water Resources Control Board, and South Coast Air Quality Management District; joined county Supervisor Kathryn Barger for briefings; hosted and joined meetings with neighbors who’ve been impacted; attended a gathering with neighbors; and more.

As a result, we recently took three important actions:

I requested the governor declare a state of emergency because residents are in dire need of support. Although Chiquita Canyon has agreed to assist with funds for relocation services, residents need the full support of the state through emergency assistance. I also signed onto an additional call for a state of emergency by Rep. Mike Garcia. 

I convened an urgent meeting with 45 representatives from all relevant state agencies and legislative committees to get everyone into one room, hear from each other about the work being done, and get an understanding of what needs to be done from here. Fortunately state agencies have been acting with urgency and utilizing every tool at their disposal, treating the situation as an emergency despite a state of emergency not being declared yet. Agencies confirmed they have access to the resources they need, and there is broad consensus between regulatory agencies and the operator that actions being taken now should provide significant relief to neighbors soon. 

Last week we also toured the Chiquita Canyon Landfill to see work happening on the ground. We saw wells being drilled to extract gases and leachate, the beginning of covering the impacted area, and over 100 leachate holding tanks used for treating and safely transporting the liquid. The coordinated operation is led by the MAC group on-site with the landfill operator, and moving as quickly as possible to deliver relief. While rain events and regulatory interventions can impact timelines, based on current actions we were told the community should start to feel significant relief during the next four to five weeks. That being said, these rare smoldering events are long-term, and this is something that will need ongoing monitoring and actions to minimize impact. 

• What’s Next for Chiquita Canyon Landfill?

Our main priority is to ensure the needs of the community are met, health impacts are addressed, and they have all resources at their disposal to relocate if desired. We will continue to engage with all relevant agencies and elected officials in the region to ensure action continues to remain swift and urgent. As an example, as a result of our tour, we found additional ways the state can support faster resolution, and we have reached out to the appropriate agency to ask for supportive action. 

I believe all options need to be on the table. However, at this time state agencies leading the MAC have stated that 1) shutting down the landfill wouldn’t actually fix the current problems, as the reaction is taking place around 2,000 feet from the active parts of the landfill; and 2) closing it now would slow down the cleanup process, as a shutdown would trigger many regulatory requirements that diverts needed cleanup resources away from enacting current solutions and onto processing a closure.

As we learn more, we will continue to keep the public updated and our office is always available. We will also continue to push all involved to keep treating this crisis with the urgency it deserves, and will continue to push for a state of emergency so the community gets needed resources. 

Pilar Schiavo, D-Chatsworth, represents the 40th Assembly District, which includes most of the Santa Clarita Valley in addition to the northwest San Fernando Valley. “Democratic Voices” appears Tuesdays and rotates among local Democrats.

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