The controversial cleanup of the former Ascon Landfill in Huntington Beach will temporarily come to halt until the last bell rings at nearby Edison High School, officials confirmed Friday.
Just the day before, concerned Huntington Beach residents gave state and local officials an earful during a community meeting — with many parents urging authorities to close the campus until their health concerns are better addressed.
More than 300 people attended the standing-room-only, question-and-answer session in Edison’s cafeteria Thursday, where officials from the California Department of Toxic Substances Control tried to assure them that the landfill remediation has not posed any significant public health risks, according to data gathered so far.
Some residents claimed they have suffered detrimental effects to their health and that there has been insufficient chemical substance monitoring on the 38-acre project site at Hamilton Avenue and Magnolia Street. A few attended the meeting wearing surgical masks, including one woman who said she had pulled her child out of Edison, saying the student “is not a lab rat.”
Former Huntington Beach City Councilman Billy O’Connell urged the community to start picketing until officials can prove the cleanup is not dangerous.
“Either cover it up or shut it down,” he shouted into a microphone.
Ascon, in a follow-up statement sent to the Daily Pilot, said it had already decided to halt work through the end of the school year.
“Prior to last night’s meeting, the Ascon Landfill site project team announced on June 3 the construction of a taller barrier fence, which we anticipate should begin being installed the week of June 10, pending city permits,” the statement says. “We also previously announced a temporary shut down through the end of the school year in June for Edison High School.”
Edison’s last day in session is Thursday.
During the latest meeting, resident Ryan Messick said there’s potential for debris to escape the Ascon site.
“There’s nothing stopping that,” he said. “It’s a travesty.”
Terrence Mann, assistant deputy executive officer for compliance and enforcement at the South Coast Air Quality Management District, told the audience that Ascon operations ceased Thursday after a teacher reported odors.
Mann added that AQMD is investigating the situation. He said the agency has received about 150 complaints since April and has issued some notices of violation.
“This is an ongoing effort,” Mann said. “We’re not going anywhere.”
Mann told the Daily Pilot Wednesday that AQMD inspectors are monitoring the site daily. The agency has installed six glass plates at various locations, including at Edison High, to collect dust for analysis. AQMD also is in talks with the Huntington Beach Fire Department to set canisters in the area that will collect odor samples.
Department of Toxic Substances Control officials pointed to a recently announced series of proactive measures aimed at addressing community concerns. Those include installing a 16-foot fence — higher than the previous 6-foot barrier — 24-hour monitoring, posting data online, visiting the site daily at different times, and storm water monitoring and reporting.
“DTSC takes the concerns expressed by the community very seriously,” Grant Cope, the department’s acting deputy director, site mitigation, said in a statement Friday. “Children going to school across the street from the site and people living nearby should not have to suffer from the foul odors that impact their community. We listened to the people and took action by suspending cleanup operations ... Our number one priority is public safety.”
Ascon Landfill spokeswoman Mary Urashima said in a previous interview Monday evening that the site is in compliance and air quality is monitored throughout the day. Additional measures — such as non-toxic, biodegradable foam — are used to suppress temporary odors.
“This public concern is taken very seriously,” she said. “The project will continue to take active measures to suppress odor as part of the overall air quality management program.”
Earlier this week, an expert from UC Irvine’s Department of Population Health and Disease Prevention told the Pilot that the potential for long-term health effects from a project like Ascon are unclear, though known dangerous chemicals have been listed on the site’s weekly air monitoring data and accumulated exposure over time could be a concern.
Addressing the audience Thursday, Mayor Erik Peterson told the community that calling authorities has worked.
“That’s what we have to keep doing,” he said. “We will, as a city, continue to work with them and make sure to mitigate everything we can.”
In its statement to the Pilot, Ascon said it “… takes the public concerns very seriously. We support actions that maintain a safe environmental cleanup and we support actions that help the public better understand the work being conducted.”
The Ascon site was an active landfill from about 1938 to 1984. The current 18-month cleanup process is expected to last through summer 2020.
Bradley Zint is a contributor to Times Community News. Daily Pilot staff writer Priscella Vega contributed to this report.
This story was originally published Friday morning and has since been updated.