Neighbors blame smelly black dust on cleanup at former Ascon landfill in Huntington Beach

Homeowner Donald Anderson shows bags of black dust he’s collected that he says is damaging homes, cars and plants in his Huntington Beach neighborhood. He and other residents believe the dust is coming from the nearby defunct Ascon landfill.
Homeowner Donald Anderson shows bags of black dust he’s collected that he says is damaging homes, cars and plants in his Huntington Beach neighborhood. He and other residents believe the dust is coming from the nearby defunct Ascon landfill.
(Don Leach / Staff Photographer)

An odorous black dust that homeowners believe is emanating from cleanup activities at Huntington Beach’s defunct Ascon landfill is coating cars, homes and plants and is difficult to remove, residents say.

“We just want to make sure the particles we are breathing are safe — that the kids in the neighborhood aren’t breathing dust that could cause some problems down the road,” Regatta Drive resident Donald Anderson said this week.

Anderson said the dust, which smells of petroleum, is so heavy that it damaged the paint on his cars. He said he fears that whatever substance is prematurely oxidizing the paint can cause harm when inhaled.

Huntington Beach homeowners Donald Anderson, left, and Ken Crites look at dust on Crites’ car that they say has blown over the Regatta Drive neighborhood from the nearby former Ascon landfill, sticking on cars and homes.
(Don Leach / Staff Photographer)

Some neighbors claim the dust has caused minor health issues.

Anderson’s neighbor Danielle Gruber said inhaling the dust has given her bad headaches, and fellow resident Barbara Thomas said she’s had a cough and sore throat.

“The gook on our cars and trash cans is going in our lungs — that’s disgusting,” Gruber said.

Cannery Hamilton Properties owns the site and the Department of Toxic Substances Control is the state regulator on the cleanup project.

“We are aware of the community concerns and we spoke to several residents on the phone and in person,” department representative Abbott Dutton said in an email Wednesday. “Air-monitoring data is collected and dust levels are measured along the fence line on a routine basis. This data is reviewed by DTSC.

“Data confirms that hazardous constituents from the site are not impacting the surrounding community,” Dutton said.

“DTSC staff visits the site regularly to observe and monitor site activities. The responsible parties are performing the work with DTSC oversight.”

Neighbors of the former Ascon landfill say black dust flows downwind over the site’s dark-colored fence onto their homes, cars and plants.
(Don Leach / Staff Photographer)

Mary Urashima, a spokeswoman for the cleanup, said residents have been reporting the issue to the project’s hot line and that work crews have been responding.

Cannery Hamilton Properties and the cleanup crews don’t know whether the dust originates from the Ascon site, Urashima said. But the crews are doing everything they can to make sure they aren’t the source, she added.

Misters used to prevent the spread of dust were turned off last week in response to complaints from residents, Urashima said. The misters used a mixture of citrus oil and water that residents reportedly disliked.

Crews also recently replaced the use of dry concrete with wet slurry to stop the spread of particulates and are constantly monitoring air conditions, Urashima said.

The Ascon landfill operated from 1938 to 1984 on a 38-acre site on the southwest corner of Magnolia Street and Hamilton Avenue. The site is close to homes, Edison Park and Edison High School.

In July, a preliminary cleanup of the site started with the abandonment of two oil wells beneath one of the five lagoons on the property.

The process includes solidification of the lagoon with 4,000 tons of concrete. Urashima said the work is expected to be finished by November. The final cleanup will come in 2018, Urashima has said.

Residents said the dust became an issue about two months ago.

Neighbors who are used to cooling their homes in the summer by letting in the ocean breeze said they have had to shutter their homes to keep the dust out.

Gruber acknowledged steps have been taken to try to mitigate the issue, but she said the dust is unrelenting.

Residents on Regatta Drive and other areas near the defunct Ascon landfill in Huntington Beach believe grainy black dust sticking to plants, homes and cars is emanating from cleanup activities at the landfill site.
(Don Leach / Staff Photographer)

Vegetation is coated with the grainy black substance, she said. More alarming, she added, is that the Ascon site has signs around the perimeter warning of dangerous chemicals.

A large portion of the waste stored at the site came from oil drilling until 1971, when the landfill became a depository for construction debris, according to the landfill’s website.

In 2003, the state demanded cleanup of the site’s five waste-filled lagoons and six oil wells.

About 160,000 tons of material have been removed during the past decade, project coordinator Tamara Zeier has said.