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Odor May Halt Dumping at Casmalia Site

Times Staff Writer

The Casmalia Resources hazardous waste dump will not be permitted to accept any more liquid waste products if a noxious odor problem emanating from two sites is not cleared up within a week, a state waste management specialist said Monday.

Two waste ponds where liquid wastes are stored have become “septic"--meaning the material has decayed and bacteria has generated gaseous fumes, said Stephen Lavinger, a specialist for the Department of Health Services. The state began spraying chemical foam on the ponds last week in an attempt to temporarily control the odor. If that doesn’t work, he said, new waste cannot be dumped into the ponds.

“Unless we can abate the odors the waste will back up, and in about five days the site will have to close down to new liquid waste,” said Lavinger, who would not say how long the closure might last. “They will, in effect, be closing themselves down.”

Residents near the dump site in northern Santa Barbara County--one of only two remaining sites authorized to accept Southern California’s most hazardous waste--have frequently complained about odors, but the problem reached a peak last week when strong southwesterly winds brought the powerful stench to nearby towns.

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During a two-day period early last week about 200 people complaining of sore throats, nausea and eye irritation called county health director Dr. Lawrence Hart. Hart then sent a telegram to the state Department of Health Services asking that the dump site be closed until the odor problems are eliminated.

Testimony From 15

After about 15 angry people testified before the Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors Monday that the odors cause health problems in their communities, the board unanimously supported the recommendation to ask the state to close or restrict the operations of the dump and direct the county counsel and district attorney to investigate what legal action could be taken.

The state has no plans to officially close the dump site, Lavinger said. After studying the available data, the state considers the problem a “public nuisance,” not a “health hazard.” There has been no evidence, he said, that the odors will cause long-term health problems. But, he said, the state is “constantly re-evaluating the situation” and will be assessing any new data on air quality or medical problems.

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The method of “capping” the ponds with foam is a “Band-Aid” measure, Lavinger said, adding that a more permanent chemical treatment plan will have to be devised.

Residents who live near the site said at Monday’s board meeting that they are running out of patience. Cheryl Miller of Santa Maria said her daughter has had a sore throat and her son has had a bloody nose every morning since the intense odors began last week.

‘You Can Taste the Acid’

“My kids have always been very healthy, so I know it’s the chemicals that are causing the problems,” she said. “You can taste the acid in your throat; you can feel it on your skin.

“They call this an odor, but the odor’s just a byproduct of what’s really happening. There’s this big cloud of poison moving around; sometimes it’s in one place and sometimes it’s in another. But wherever it is, it makes people sick.”

Kenneth Hunter, the landfill owner, said the dump site is needed in Santa Barbara County. If the landfill were closed, he said, large quantities of toxic wastes would end up “in the sewers and the canyons.”

The 250-acre Casmalia landfill was opened in 1972 to store petroleum and agricultural waste from Santa Barbara County.

The volume of waste at the landfill has increased steadily as other landfills have closed. More than 50 trucks a day dump waste into open ponds.

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“We are concerned that since the volume at Casmalia has been increased tremendously after the closure of the other dump sites, we’ve begun to have these problems. . . ,” said Hart, the county’s health director. “We need to take another look at what’s going on.”


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