Company Covers Pit Full of Toxic Waste : Fumes From 48-Foot-Diameter Pond Irritated Neighbors of Site

Times Staff Writer

The beleaguered owners of a contaminated landfill in Huntington Beach covered a 48-foot-wide toxic pit on the property Thursday to stifle a stench that has bothered neighbors for decades.

As a result, Ascon Properties also moved one step closer toward final settlement of a $7-million lawsuit filed 19 months ago by state health and anti-pollution agencies seeking cleanup of the site. The company’s lender has foreclosed on the property.

As Ascon Vice President John Lindsey stood beside the sump, workers laid final touches on a round, black rubberized sheet that will keep the highly toxic pond of styrene-type ooze protected from the sun and other elements.


It will also confine the noxious fumes, which for decades have prompted complaints from residents as far away as Costa Mesa. The fumes, if chronically inhaled, could trigger nausea, eye and skin problems, general weakness and respiratory tract irritation, health officials say.

“We are now attempting to show everybody good faith and that we want to remedy the problems associated with the site,” Lindsey said.

Total cleanup of the sprawling 39-acre dump site behind the Southern California Edison Co. power plant is months if not years away, however. Estimates for that job have topped $50 million, and a Huntington Beach Fire Department specialist in hazardous waste said there is no guarantee it would be successful.

The city granted land-use changes in February that will allow Ascon to build up to 600 condominiums on its property, although the company first needs to rid the land of its contaminated soil.

Key among recent Ascon developments is the question of who would pay for such a monumental cleanup, especially when Ascon’s lender, Signal Mortgage Inc. of Long Beach, has foreclosed on the property.

Lindsey said Ascon, which he co-owns with Phil Spiller, owes Signal more than $4 million in loans on the former landfill and that Signal has refused to refinance the loans.


Ted Broedlow, Signal president, confirmed Thursday that “we have been in foreclosure for 70 to 75 days” but declined to discuss Ascon’s financial state because Ascon “is in serious negotiations with prospective joint-venture partners.”

But Lindsey said Thursday that, while there are several developers interested in building condominiums on a site so near the beach, “every one of them is daunted by the risk potential of the site.”

“There’s not too many angels around when you have a hazardous-waste pit,” Lindsey said.

The rubber cover over the pit, however, may help remove one of Ascon’s obstacles to cleaning the site and developing it.

The South Coast Air Quality Management District, in its Oct. 10, 1987, lawsuit against Ascon, charged that fumes from the toxic wastes found on the site, near the intersection of Magnolia and Hamilton avenues, posed a serious public health threat and sought a court order forcing Ascon to clean it up. The AQMD also sought $7 million in fines against Ascon.

On Nov. 5, 1987, Orange County Superior Court Judge Tully H. Seymour ordered Ascon to cover the toxic pond or pay fines.

Lindsey said that Ascon will pay a $25,000 fine before the judge Tuesday, when a settlement agreement with the AQMD is to be formally signed.


Even as it prepares to pay the fine, Ascon maintains that the former oil refinery dump was not declared a hazardous-waste site by the state until 6 months after the company bought the land in July, 1983. Ascon claims that previous owners never disclosed the extent of waste dumped at the site. The company is awaiting trial of a $250-million lawsuit that seeks damages from oil companies that Ascon alleges dumped their oil field waste on the property.