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The Chiquita Canyon Landfill Has an Underground Fire Burning – What Does This Mean for The 20,000 Residents of Castaic?

The Bratt Law Firm March 19, 2024

In the heart of the beautiful Santa Clarita Valley lies a hidden danger, one that smolders beneath the earth's surface, threatening the health and safety of the approximate 20,0000 residents of Castaic (an unincorporated community approximately 40 miles north of Los Angeles).

The Chiquita Canyon Landfill (Chiquita Canyon, LLC, a subsidiary of Waste Connections US, Inc.) has been operating since 1972, and is currently the second largest landfill in Los Angeles County. In approximately May 2022, reports show that an area of the landfill about 30 acres in size caught on fire deep underground (they are calling it “a reaction event”), and as a result began releasing a cocktail of toxic fumes, chemicals and gases which immediately raised concerns about the potential acute and long-term health impacts on the surrounding communities. While the smells are horrible, the fears about carcinogens being released into the community including benzene (known to cause leukemia) have sadly been confirmed. Residents have been complaining about a horrific odor along that are causing acute effects including headaches, brain fog, bloody noses, respiratory issues, and stomach aches. But the anxiety and concern about life altering respiratory and neurological conditions as well as cancer is very real among residents – especially for the young children living in the area.

For months the Chiquita Canyon Landfill apologized for the rotten egg smell but has outright refused to acknowledge that the emissions pose any real health concern to residents. Despite this denial there was mounting political pressure on the heels of thousands of complaints to the South Coast Air Quality Management Board (AQMD). Eventually, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) reviewed the situation and on February 21, 2024, issued a unilateral administrative order finding that “the conditions present an imminent and substantial endangerment to nearby communities”. The situation demands urgent attention and action.

The story of the Chiquita Canyon Landfill fire is a sobering reminder of the environmental challenges we face in the modern world. The original residents of Val Verde and Castaic still wonder how a Landfill was ever approved in their community. How is it safe to dispose of thousands of tons of trash each day within a stones throw of where people live?

The origins of the landfill fire date back to decades of improper waste management practices. As tons of organic and inorganic waste accumulated in the landfill, the decomposition process generated heat, creating an ideal environment for spontaneous combustion. Additionally, the disposal of hazardous materials, such as batteries and electronic waste, only fueled the flames further, exacerbating the problem. There have also been rumors of illegal dumping at the site by Rocketdyne. This all makes what is being currently emitted into the neighboring community all the more shocking.

Despite efforts to contain the fire, including the installation of gas extraction wells and thermal monitoring systems, the situation at Chiquita Canyon Landfill continues to deteriorate. The EPA's unilateral administrative order underscores the severity of the situation, compelling immediate action to mitigate the environmental and health risks posed by the ongoing fire. Despite all these “efforts”, the Landfill has already admitted that the fire may likely continue burning for years!

One of the most alarming aspects of the Chiquita Canyon Landfill fire is the presence of benzene, a known human carcinogen, in the surrounding air. Elevated levels of this toxic compound have been detected in nearby communities – including at the Live Oak Elementary School - raising concerns about long-term health effects, particularly among vulnerable populations such as children and the elderly. Benzene exposure has been linked to a range of health problems, including leukemia, lymphoma, and other forms of cancer, making it imperative to address this issue promptly and comprehensively.

The environmental and public health ramifications of the Chiquita Canyon Landfill fire extend far beyond the immediate vicinity of the site. Toxic pollutants released into the air can travel long distances, affecting air quality and ecosystems in neighboring areas. Moreover, the contamination of groundwater sources poses a significant risk to drinking water supplies, potentially exposing millions of people to harmful chemicals and heavy metals. Testing of air, water and soil moving forward is essential in understanding the true reach of this tragedy.

One of the core issues for residents is how do they leave? Most of them have put their life savings into homes which are worthless now that all this attention has been placed on the community. So many residents feel trapped in this toxic environment with no ability to move.

At its core, the Chiquita Canyon Landfill fire serves as a stark reminder of the interconnectedness of environmental, social, and economic issues. We need to find better waste disposal solutions and there should never be a situation where landfills are approved within existing communities – many of which are historically lower income. It seems like common sense, but we should be establishing landfills hundreds of miles from the nearest communities to prevent similar situations.

In conclusion, the ongoing underground fire at Chiquita Canyon Landfill is a wake-up call for society to reevaluate its approach to waste management and environmental stewardship. With the EPA's intervention and reports of elevated benzene levels, the urgency of the situation cannot be overstated. It is imperative that we take immediate and decisive action to extinguish the flames, mitigate pollution, and safeguard the health and well-being of current and future generations. This means the Landfill must take responsibility for its failures and transparently address this situation by getting residents out of the area and finding a solution to compensate them for their economic loss as well as physical injuries. Medical monitoring must also be established for all the community members so we can track the long-term effects of these toxic exposures – the Landfill should be footing that bill too. Sadly, to date the Landfill is not acting with urgency or concern for the residents leaving them with no choice but to seek legal assistance.

The Bratt Law Firm is currently partnered up with two other amazing law firms – Trial Lawyers 4 Justice and Singleton & Schreiber – to form a well-versed legal team with vast experience in toxic torts, property devaluation, environmental disasters, and medical monitoring to assist any area residents. If you live in and around the Castaic area and have been affected by the Landfill emissions, please feel free to reach out for a free no-risk assessment on your legal options. We are actively helping people in the area and are happy to speak with you.