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State Orders Lopez Canyon Closed

Times Staff Writer

The California Waste Management Board on Thursday directed Los Angeles County to close Lopez Canyon Landfill until testing determines whether fumes that sickened city sanitation workers last week continue to be dangerous.

However, an official with the county Health Services Department, which acts as the state’s local agent for landfill review, refused to carry out the order against the city’s only public landfill.

In a letter to the state late Thursday afternoon, Charles Coffee, county director of solid-waste management, said he did not believe that there was “sufficient evidence of a threat” to close the dump, even temporarily.

Government officials will meet in Los Angeles this morning to discuss the landfill’s future. Chris Peck, a state waste management spokesman, said the state may exert its authority to close the dump if it cannot persuade the county to do so.

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“We’re just concerned that we know what really happened there,” Peck said.

Delwin Biagi, director of the city’s Bureau of Sanitation, agreed with the county’s stance. Biagi noted that testing of air and ground gases is proceeding and that only the small section of the dump where the accident occurred was closed.

“If we in the bureau thought there was a safety concern of any scope, we’d close it down immediately,” he said. “We see what happened as an isolated incident.”

On March 8, a bulldozer excavating a road unearthed a layer of trash buried in 1982. Two workers fainted and had to be hospitalized. Several others reported dizziness and headaches. One worker, Keith O’Kray, 33, of Newhall, remains hospitalized in stable condition.

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Located just above Lake View Terrace, Lopez Canyon handles more than half of the 7,000 tons of trash produced daily in Los Angeles. If the landfill is ultimately closed, Biagi said, the three private landfills the city uses will not be able to handle the surplus. Households across Los Angeles could expect reduced trash pickup, he said.

“The people who would be hurt by this are the people who put their trash out every day,” Biagi said.

Assemblyman Richard Katz (D-Sylmar), who on Wednesday called for the dump’s closure, said safety should outweigh fiscal concerns.

“I understand the pressures the city is under to find a place for the trash,” Katz said. “But you’ve got to err on the side of safety.”

People living near the landfill, who have protested plans for its expansion, consider the state order a victory. But they derided the county for its reluctance to comply.

“Are we going to have to wait for someone to keel over and die first?” said Lewis Snow, vice president of the Lake View Terrace Home Owners Assn.

On Thursday, officials with the South Coast Air Quality Management District installed air monitoring equipment at the landfill. On Wednesday they had issued a citation against the landfill because, at the time of the accident, it did not have a permit necessary for excavating trash.


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