EPA finds more violations at Chiquita 

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

Federal Environmental Protection Agency officials said Chiquita Canyon Landfill “has violated, and continues to violate” the rules and regulations governing its waste-management operations, in a series of findings published June 4

The violations at Chiquita Canyon Landfill “have caused or can cause excess emissions of hydrogen sulfide, volatile hazardous air pollutants (‘VHAP’), and volatile organic compounds,” according to the EPA. 

The side effects listed from those pollutants range from respiratory challenges to damage to the nervous system and even cancer, as residents wait for more comprehensive answers to the health questions posed by the landfill’s numerous violations. The facility is garnering approximately 2,000 complaints each month.  

Landfill officials did not have a statement immediately available in response to the June 4 EPA findings of violations, which were not yet listed on the facility’s website Monday morning. 

June 4 findings  

The EPA’s findings state the facility has been in violation of some of its operating conditions since September 2022 and it “continues to be in violation” in other instances. 

The violations state the landfill failed to submit root-cause analyses, failed to fix problems with its wells and “failed to return the landfill’s gas-collection wells to operation in a manner that minimizes downtime for various periods between Jan. 1, 2022, and Dec. 31, 2023.” 

The landfill has repeatedly stated it is doing everything it can in cooperation with county, state and federal regulators to address the subsurface reaction that’s causing excessive leachate production and nauseating gases. 

For several months now, the landfill has been drilling into a closed section of the landfill to install new gas-collection wells. While the drilling has made the smell worse, according to residents, landfill officials have said it should help significantly. 

Previously, Chiquita Canyon Landfill General Manager Steve Cassulo said the drilling is necessary six days a week to meet a well-installation goal of the end of the calendar year.  

Latest violations 

The 16-page list of findings from the San Francisco office of the EPA states the agency is requiring compliance under the threat of administrative penalties. 

The findings included a review of the landfill’s gas-collection well logs, indicating more than 80 of the landfill’s wells were not working in multiple reports the landfill issued. 

Cassulo has described the wells as an important part of the facility’s efforts to keep the smells at the landfill down because they help vent the gases into the facility’s flares for capture. 

Some of the excerpts from the EPA’s findings have pointed directly to the failures of the landfill’s wells and that the wells should have been serviced more regularly: 

“The Enhanced Monitoring Data and Semi-Annual Reports indicate that there were (27) wells where the wellhead temperature was above 170 (degrees) and the carbon monoxide concentration measured was greater than or equal to 1,000 (parts per million by volume) and corrective actions to return the wells below 145 (degrees) were not completed within 15 days and are still uncompleted.”  

The report also cited the landfill’s monitoring methodology. 

“The Enhanced Monitoring Data indicate that CCL performed enhanced monitoring less frequently than the required weekly monitoring 18 times in 2022, totaling 174 days in which weekly monitoring was late; and 222 times in 2023, totaling 1,244 days in which weekly monitoring was late, using temperature as a surrogate for all weekly monitoring parameters,” according to the violation. 

The findings also include a section titled “environmental impact of violation” that details the concerns that can come from the findings. 

“The violations described above have caused or can cause excess emissions of hydrogen sulfide, volatile hazardous air pollutants (‘VHAP’) and volatile organic compounds (‘VOC’) including methane,” according to the findings. 

The potential health impacts listed in the findings represent a lot of the symptoms residents have been complaining about at community meetings, including “chest pain, coughing, throat irritation and congestion,” but more serious risks are discussed. 

Repeated exposure to VOCs “may permanently scar lung tissue,” according to the report, and “VHAP emissions can lead to a variety of adverse health effects including cancer, respiratory irritation and damage to the nervous system.” 

Landfill response  

In response to the gas and leachate problems at Chiquita Canyon Landfill, which are still the subject of root-cause analysis to determine their nature and origin, two federal task forces have been created: a Multiagency Critical Action Team, called an MCAT, and a Response Multiagency Coordination, called an RMAC. 

The MCAT was formed in November after the EPA became involved, and it is the lead agency in the task force. The MCAT also includes: the California Environmental Protection Agency, California Air Resources Board, CalRecycle, Department of Toxic Substances Control, Los Angeles Regional Water Quality Control Board, South Coast Air Quality Management District, and the Los Angeles County departments of Public Works, Public Health and Planning. 

The MCAT’s highest concerns are possible health and environmental impacts, especially those raised by community members, according to an EPA source speaking on background.  

“For quicker, more aggressive action at the Chiquita Canyon Landfill, in March 2024, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the California Environmental Protection Agency, and Los Angeles County shifted into a new phase of coordination by creating the Response Multi-Agency Coordination(R-MAC) Group,” according to the source in an email Monday. 

One of the R-MAC’s listed objectives is to “keep the community and other interested parties informed through participation.” 

An EPA official said Monday there are no community meetings planned in response to the June 4 violation. 

Landfill officials held a series of community meetings May 31 and June 1 to offer residents help with a community relief program, with more than 200 taking part in the in-person meetings at   Castaic Library and Val Verde Park. 

The landfill did not have information immediately available on how many people have been helped by the community fund.  

A spokesman for the landfill said updated information on how many residents were helped would be released at a community meeting last week. On Monday, Chiquita Canyon said the figures were still not available. 

The landfill is hosting two more in-person help sessions for its relief fund from 10:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Friday at Castaic Library on Sloan Canyon Road and from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturday at Val Verde Community Center.   

School district statement 

While the school year ended May 31, governing board members for the Castaic Union School District plan to hold a discussion titled “Chiquita Canyon Landfill Community Concerns” at its June 13 meeting. 

An Air Quality Management District supervising inspector has substantiated complaints from local elementary school campuses, and the district’s agenda for the meeting states that concerns have been raised within the district since May 2023. 

CUSD Superintendent Bob Brauneisen said the landfill purchased improved filters and air purifiers for each classroom, and students who are bothered by the air are allowed to stay inside at all times.  

The district’s resolution essentially would urge the task forces and the landfill’s operator to “implement appropriate mitigation measures to eliminate or reduce the odor” without further delay. 

Residents have yet to receive any clear and conclusive answers as to whether there are any long-term health risks associated with the leachate and air-quality violations that have been going on for more than a year. 

Both the county and state officials have said that closing the landfill won’t help the facility deal with its problems. Rep. Mike Garcia, R-Santa Clarita, has said numerous times the landfill should be closed while the problems are investigated.  

A spokesman for the EPA, which is leading the response, indicated Monday none of its enforcement actions to date have resulted in any financial penalties for the Texas-based company that owns the waste-management facility, although the agency does have the authority to issue them. 

“The Clean Air Act authorizes EPA to issue an order requiring compliance with the requirements of that law, issue an administrative penalty order, or commence a civil action seeking an injunction and/or civil penalty,” according to an email Monday from Michael Brogan, press officer for the EPA’s Office of Public Affairs. 

The violations were issued one day before a judge continued lawsuit to September, which was brought by a group of residents seeking to sue the county and the landfill’s parent company, Waste Connections, arguing for its closure, frustrated by the county, state and federal response. 

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