Chiquita Canyon committee shares update on relief fund 

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

The head of the Chiquita Canyon Advisory Committee has raised pointed questions for landfill officials and regulators as residents remain plagued by their potential exposure to noxious chemicals and nauseating gases.  

On Wednesday, Chiquita officials released an update indicating 123 residents have received aid from the landfill relief fund over the past two months, and saying a total of $227,300 in aid has been distributed to date.   

A Chiquita Canyon Landfill official said last week the facility plans to have all its relief wells drilled — part of a system intended to vent the odors into flares designed to capture the gases — by the end of this year. 

The gases are being caused by a subsurface reaction that’s happening at close to 200 degrees, which has also created an overwhelming amount of stinky landfill gases and leachate, a chemical byproduct of rain filtering through landfill gases and decomposing garbage, according to officials. 

Committee member Jeremiah Dockray, a Val Verde resident, asked about the drilling schedule at the May 14 meeting, saying it would be helpful if the landfill could post notices when the drilling occurs because that’s when the odors are worst. 

Steve Cassulo, general manager of the landfill, replied that one of the challenges facing the landfill was a very tight timeline in order to meet its regulatory orders. 

“We have four drilling rigs on site now, but we drill every day and sometimes on Saturday,” he said. “We have to get 230 in by the end of the year, so we can’t not drill. That’s our goal.” 

After the exchange, both acknowledged that local winds can play a major factor in how well the odor is detected. 

It was one of several concerns brought up by the advisory committee, which asked questions about relief-fund frustrations that residents shared and what committee chair Bob Lewis called “the big disconnect” with the data that’s been presented: 

“‘You’re saying I’m not being exposed to hazardous levels, so can you explain the nose bleeds? Can you explain the asthmatic conditions? Can you explain the tremors I have?’” Lewis said, citing what he’s been hearing from residents, after the landfill’s consultants explained the difference between current exposure levels and the regulatory limits.  

“If you’re saying it’s not because of the exposure, because of what they’re being exposed to is not hazardous, then what’s causing the health issues that weren’t there before we started having these problems with the landfill?” 

Lewis questioned the accuracy of the monitoring website’s usage of an Occupational Safety and Health Administration guideline. The agency’s acceptable exposure levels are based on an average eight-hour workday exposure period. Castaic and Val Verde residents, particularly those who go to school locally and work at home, are at risk of constant exposure. 

The regulators recognized the problem but had to cite the data they had available. 

“I do agree, the better data, the better information we have, it’ll kind of help us create these responses that can kind of inform you a little bit better to what we believe exposure levels are,” said Charles Pearson of the California Air Resources Board. “We have to follow the data. There will be a lot more work on this.” 

Lewis also asked for more transparency on the landfill’s community relief fund, saying at the meeting that one of the things he hears most from residents is they aren’t sure if they can afford to move, and there’s no information on the site regarding how the metrics for eligibility are determined. 

John Perkey, vice president of Waste Connections, which owns and operates Chiquita Canyon Landfill, said there were multiple factors that eligibility is based on, including household size and proximity. The range goes from a few hundred dollars for those farthest away from the landfill to a few thousand dollars for those closest, he added when pressed by Lewis. 

The latest update from Chiquita Canyon indicated so far that only 54 people have received funding for a total of $72,000 — an average of about $1,300 per person. 

Lewis said he wanted more specific updates than what Perkey provided, and Perkey initially pushed back on providing more than what was presented on the agenda, citing privacy concerns. 

Lewis said the committee wasn’t looking for specifics, but it wanted more information about what people in certain areas were eligible for, and barring that, he said he could start dedicating time at the start of each monthly meeting to ask people.  

Perkey replied that he would try to accommodate, and Chiquita Canyon officials released updated data Wednesday afternoon in response to a request from The Signal. 

“In March, there were 61 applications approved for funding, and in April, there were 84 applications approved,” according to an email from Michael Bova, a representative for Chiquita Canyon Landfill.  

He added that 62 of the April applications were unique, putting the two-month total at 123 residents helped, with the total distribution amount to date of $227,300.  

Bova also said that a true average would be difficult due to the myriad of factors involved. The continued receipt of money also depends on families recertifying their eligibility monthly, he added. 

Air quality officials reported at the same meeting that the landfill received 2,024 odor complaints and 21 nuisance violations in April. Through the midpoint of May, it was on the same pace with 1,000 complaints so far, which Larry Israel, supervising inspector for the Air Quality Management District, referred to as “staggering.”  

The data he shared indicated the landfill was likely to reach its 15,000th complaint since January of 2023 by the end of the month. 

More information on the relief fund is available at

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