Controversial toxic landfill cleanup to resume in Huntington Beach – Orange County Register
Nearly two years after outraged neighbors forced clean-up efforts to stop at a long-closed Ascon toxic dump in Huntington Beach, regulators are preparing to resume work and will face these residents again when an online meeting on Thursday, May 6, to explain the improved plan.
Throughout the spring of 2019, residents increasingly complained about dust and smelly fumes coming from the 38-acre Superfund site, which is immediately adjacent to the homes, Edison High School and Edison Park. Their anger peaked at a community meeting in June 2019 called by the State Department of Toxics Control to discuss the controversy.
The agency’s air monitoring reports showed that with the exception of three brief minor cases, toxins and dust leaving the site were at healthy levels. But at the meeting attended by some 300 neighbors, there were relentless tales of breathing problems, headaches and rashes, as well as concerns about the long-term effects of toxic dust and fumes. .
In addition, a petition calling for the work to be stopped collected around 2,500 signatures. At the end of the 2-hour meeting – in which regulators were regularly yelled at by the sometimes noisy crowd – the agency agreed to stop the cleanup until 10 new conditions were met.
âThe numbers (from air surveillance) say one thing but you say another,â agency chief Javier Hinojosa told the audience at Edison High School. “So we are responding to that.”
The agency’s deputy director, Grant Cope, went further, saying, âThe way this cleanup is done is broken. It is our responsibility to resolve this issue.
When work resumes, the new cleaning plan only concerns âF pitâ, a 45 square foot portion considered to be the most toxic location on the site. Several neighbors who participated in monthly online meetings with the Department of Toxic Substances Control praised the agency’s responsiveness.
âWe think DTSC is doing its best,â said Nancy Buchoz, who lives about 50 yards from Pit F. âThey’ve been a game-changer.â
But some also said they wanted more information distributed to residents so their neighbors could better understand the risks involved, wondered if the toxins had migrated further than expected, expressed concern about a risk of potential fire and complained that the agency only changed course after widespread community outrage.
History of toxins
The landfill was operated privately from 1938 to 1984, receiving industrial, petroleum and construction waste. The site, at the corner of Magnolia Street and Hamilton Avenue, is close to the AES Power Plant and has ocean views half a mile away.
The presence of toxins in the soil is widely recognized, including large signs on the surrounding fence warning of lead, arsenic and nickel. In 2003, a site clean-up agreement was reached with the owners and a clean-up plan was approved in 2015.
The last stage of this work began in January 2019, with some waste being gathered in the central part of the site and the rest evacuated to a toxic landfill. Work was halted in June 2019. Once the cleanup is complete, grass will be planted and the area will be a private green space with no further development, according to Hinojosa.
But while the goal is to minimize long-term environmental and health risks at the site, it was the 2019 cleanup itself that set off new alarms among neighbors.
Measures implemented since the work stoppage include increasing the height of the dust fence surrounding the site from 6 feet to 16 feet and adding six air monitors in the surrounding neighborhood. The work provisionally scheduled to resume in early June reflects the new precautions promised by the toxic substances agency and aims to prevent dust and fumes from leaving the site.
Pit F contains viscous waste generated from the production of carcinogenic styrene, and will take two to three months to clean up, according to the April “community update” sent by the agency to neighbors. This location has already been set up to minimize toxins and odors from migrating to the neighborhood during construction, and a filter will remove toxins from the air inside the tent.
Inside the tent, toxic sludge and dirt will be loaded into lined bins that will be sealed, inspected and loaded onto transport trucks, which will transport the waste to a landfill designed for these toxins, according to information sent to neighbors.
Neighbors Buchoz and Sharon Messick praised the new cleanup plan, with Messick saying in a phone interview that Deputy Director Cope had been ‘like a hero’. But in a follow-up email, they expressed lingering concerns.
They believe this type of cleaning is unprecedented and should be clearly communicated to residents. They also presented records which they say show that there are at least nine toxins alongside styrene which are carcinogens listed by the EPA. While agency documents sent to neighbors mention styrene, Buchoz and Messick say the agency should educate residents about others as well as the impacts they could have.
The cleaning of the F pit should capture at least 95% of the emissions, according to the agency. But some neighbors are wondering how toxic the remaining 5% could be.
Agency spokesman Gamaliel Ortiz said Thursday’s meeting was intended to address concerns that were not already detailed in documents sent to neighbors, and defended the rigor of the plan.
âAlthough the composition of the materials in the F-pit may be unique, the safe removal and transportation of viscous hazardous materials is a fairly common practice,â he said. âThe remediation team in place has carried out work of this type, using specialized equipment in confined spaces to remove a range of wastes in various clean-up actions across the country.â
Four neighbors interviewed by the registry have no plans to evacuate the area during the cleanup, but two said their plans could change.
âIf anyone in my family has symptoms of exposure, we’re out of here,â neighbor and biochemist Tara Barton said, noting that several people in her house had mysterious health issues in 2019.
Thursday’s Zoom meeting, during which comments and questions will be taken, can be viewed at bit.ly/3d95AwU/ at 18 hours