Gary Horton | It’s Time for Real Action at Chiquita

Gary Horton

A disclosure: I am a member of the Chiquita Canyon Landfill Citizen’s Oversight Committee, appointed by L.A. County Supervisor Kathryn Barger. Yes, R’s or D’s after one’s name don’t matter when you’re just trying to get good stuff done. 

Yet, getting “good stuff done” is proving disappointingly difficult at the Chiquita Canyon Landfill. 

Most readers know there’s a serious chemical reaction occurring 100 to 200 feet below the surface of approximately 90 acres in the oldest area of the landfill. While landfill operator Waste Connections did not operate or build that portion of the landfill, they inherited responsibility for it when contracting with L.A. County to manage the facility.  

Waste Connections is on the hook to make things right, but frankly, their response to date has disappointed just about everyone party to this problem: The citizens of Val Verde and other nearby residents, industrial center workers, L.A. County itself, the South Coast Air Quality Management District, South Coast Water, the EPA, Cal Recycle, the oversight committee – we’ve been delayed, disappointed, and most importantly, put at substantial risk to quality of life and, many say, to health and life itself. 

Our oversight meetings are monthly. At each subsequent meeting, slowly, belatedly, more and more concerning information “rises to the surface” like the fumes themselves. The latest was an admission that the problem isn’t simply that inert “odors” coming from the dump are annoying and disgusting. Rather, portions of these “odors” are far more sinister. Portions of these odors are volatile organic compounds, some quite dangerous to health. There’s a laundry list of landfill VOC’s we’re breathing near the landfill. Pity the locals who suffer this daily! 

Perhaps worse, we were informed that the “safe exposure threshold” we’ve been told is standard and accurate is, in fact, only accurate for acute, short-term exposure. But most folks affected by the landfill are exposed chronically to this soup of poison. Hour after hour, day after day, month after month. The scientist reporting this disconcerting news also stated that there’s not much known about the exact safe chronic levels of exposure other than this situation is more complex, risky, unknown, and likely toxic than had been previously disclosed. 

The Chiquita “underground chemical reaction” has been burning now for over 18 months. Locals, and particularly Val Verde residents, have put up with gut-churning, eye-tearing, cough-inducing, “odors” consistently over this past year and a half. Now we learn these odors indeed may well be causing the serious health complaints so many residents are experiencing.  

Despite the huge cost in life quality, medical expenses, health complications and financial burdens, very little has been achieved to improve the situation for residents. The dump continues at full capacity. Various agencies give reports. Waste Connections tells of their “progress” in mitigating the core problem. Yet, the odors, the VOC’s, the health problems, and the disgusting experience continue, unabated and uncompensated.  

Waste Connections promised a community outreach support fund to assist folks in hardening up their homes, in beefing up air conditioning and filtering, and in relocating, if necessary. But so far, only some $64,000 has been distributed – and not one person has been relocated away from the toxic fumes. Locals have been given small air filters, some help on utility bills, and various other small gestures, but the real needs haven’t been addressed yet.  

Some experts indicate it will take Waste Connections five to 10 years to fully tamp the reaction. Quality of life will be compromised for years. Even Waste Connections admits this process will take at least two years … and likely more. While they are now performing the work that most experts agree needs to be done, their response has been late, slow and with little urgency. Meanwhile, Val Verde stews in the fumes. 

All agencies and Waste Connections must get serious about mitigating the damage to Val Verde residents and other impacted locals. No more dithering with small, symbolic steps. Rep. Mike Garcia called for Chiquita Canyon to be closed – shut down while the problem is being corrected. This seems reasonable, as Chiquita has received over 16,000 public complaints and over 200 notices of violation over the past 16 months – yet zero fines and no reduction in revenues. 

Neither the county nor Waste Connections is in any rush to close the facility. About 80% of trash coming into Chiquita Canyon Landfill comes from areas in L.A. County OUTSIDE the Santa Clarita Valley. The county doesn’t have capacity to economically dump all this trash anywhere else. So, the county wants it continued. Waste Connections is minting money, so they want it continued, as well. But the SCV pays the price as we’ve become L.A. County’s mother of all toilets. 

Continuing to operate the landfill as an economic solution to L.A. County’s trash problems is “economic” only because all this trash is being dumped onto the backs and into the lungs of Val Verde and other locals. Your trash bill is subsidized by SCV citizens’ health and well-being. L.A. County residents enjoy cheap trash disposal because the county subsidizes the true cost of trash disposal at Chiquita with our lives. 

This is a breach of basic justice that must be corrected now. The people of Val Verde and surrounding areas are due restitution equal to the harm to which they have been subjected:  

• Many must be relocated with all expenses fully paid, including taxes on funds received.  

• Those who choose to stay should have their homes fully corrected for vapor and emission control.  

• Health and medical expenses should be covered and monitored. 

• The landfill operations should be highly reduced, if not discontinued – per Congressman Garcia. 

• And importantly for our peace of mind, the county must conduct an immediate door-to-door health assessment of people in proximity to the landfill. Let’s finally learn just how badly this is injuring us. 

It’s way late for action. It’s time for L.A. County and Waste Connections to truly make things as “right” as things can be, immediately.

Gary Horton’s “Full Speed to Port!” has appeared in The Signal since 2006. The opinions expressed in his column do not necessarily reflect the opinions of The Signal or its editorial board.

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