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Test Results to Allow Lopez Landfill to Remain Open

Times Staff Writer

The state will not close Lopez Canyon Landfill, Los Angeles’ only public trash dump, because only low levels of toxics were found during air and underground gas tests, authorities said Monday.

“The results came in, and they showed there’s nothing to worry about at all,” said Chris Peck, spokesman for the California Waste Management Board.

Peck, however, defended the state board’s recent order to close the Lake View Terrace area landfill until testing was completed. The order came Thursday after the hospitalization of two city sanitation workers who inhaled fumes at the dump. When the city and county balked at that order, state officials flew down for a meeting Friday, after which they decided to wait for the test results.

Health, Safety Stance

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“When it comes down to public health and safety, the board would much rather be accused of overreacting than of not acting soon enough,” Peck said.

Lopez Canyon receives more than half of the estimated 6,000 to 7,000 tons of household trash produced daily in the city. The rest goes to two private landfills and to one operated under a county contract.

Test results, released Monday, “showed constituents that are typical of landfill gas, in some cases particularly odorous landfill gases . . . but no immediate hazard to anyone in the neighborhood,” said Carol Coy, senior enforcement officer with the South Coast Air Quality Management District.

However, the AQMD will conduct around-the-clock air sampling later this week in the residential areas of Lake View Terrace and Kagel Canyon because of the continuing mystery over what sickened the sanitation workers, Coy said.

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Two workers fainted and several others complained of nausea and headaches after digging into a layer of 1982-vintage trash while excavating for a road on March 8. One of the workers, Keith O’Kray, 33, was hospitalized for 11 days.

Because the city waited several days before notifying the AQMD and because gas dissipates quickly, Coy said it cannot be said for certain what sickened the workers.

However, investigators believe it was hydrogen sulfide gas--a common product of decaying manure--found at levels of 16 parts per million in some of the seven tests of underground gases, Coy said. Levels of 10 to 16 p.p.m. are common at area landfills, she said.

There is no statewide health limit for the gas, because research on the chemical is incomplete, Coy said. But in enclosed industrial settings, workers must wear a respirator when levels are at 10 p.p.m., she said.

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Excavation for the landfill road is at a standstill because of the accident, said Michael Miller, assistant director of the Los Angeles city Bureau of Sanitation. And the city must obtain a permit from the AQMD before it can resume.

Citation Issued

Last Wednesday, the AQMD cited the landfill for proceeding without the permit, which requires testing of ground gases, Coy said. Other excavation on the site, where an AQMD-ordered gas extraction system must be installed by July, also has halted while a landfill consultant reviews dump operations, Miller said.

“We want to assure ourselves that nothing like this ever happens again,” he said.

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Landfill opponents were pleased with news of neighborhood air sampling, but unhappy that the state decided not to close the dump.

“I’m terribly disappointed,” said Rob Zapple of the Kagel Canyon Civic Assn. “Why don’t they shut it down now and finish the gas recovery system?”


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