Officials say they plan to better contain dust, monitor air quality near Ascon landfill site in Huntington Beach

An aerial image taken May 28 shows the former 38-acre Ascon Landfill property at the southwest corner of Hamilton Avenue and Magnolia Street in Huntington Beach. Nearby residents are complaining about dust from an ongoing cleanup at the site.
(Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

Amid residents’ increasing concerns about the 18-month cleanup underway at the former Ascon landfill in Huntington Beach, state and regional air quality officials say they’re working with the project manager to better monitor and contain dust and potential air pollutants.

Air and dust monitoring will increase from eight to 24 hours a day and larger windscreens will be installed at the project site on Hamilton Avenue and Magnolia Street.

The South Coast Air Quality Management District has been asked to set up more monitoring stations to provide an additional layer of oversight, according to Javier Hinojosa, Cypress branch chief for the state’s Department of Toxic Substances Control.

A state employee will inspect the project site five times a week, and a technical advisor may be added to the team to review data and explain it to the community, Hinojosa said.

These additional mitigation efforts come after several residents who live near the project site lambasted the state and project managers during a city-hosted meeting on May 15. City Councilwomen Kim Carr and Barbara Delgleize organized the meeting in response to those concerns.

Several residents in attendance contended that dust and odors from the cleanup, which began earlier this year, are causing respiratory problems.

Despite reassurances from a certified occupational and environmental physician, state employees and project managers that the work does not pose health risks, some residents in attendance expressed dissatisfaction with what they were told.

Huntington Beach residents Nancy Buchoz and Jeff Grimm, both of whom claim they have experienced respiratory issues potentially related to the work, said they’d like to see the cleanup put on hold until the dust is properly contained.

Buchoz said dust and odors are affecting her family. She said she’s called Ascon’s hotline several times as well as the AQMD.

“It’s a frustrating thing to be not able to enjoy your home because you can’t go outside because of the air quality every day,” she said. “We don’t have any way to know air quality is good or bad on any each given day. They do their monitoring but we don’t know. Who’s to say if it’s safe or unsafe? What if they dig something and that’s not too high?”

Hinojosa said project managers temporarily halt work in high winds, but Buchoz said she’s witnessed crews working in such conditions.

“Nobody was expecting the ramifications of what we’re suffering,” added Grimms. “Our winds are crazy here in Huntington Beach and 10-mile-an-hour wind isn’t unusual for the day.”

In addition, a South Coast AQMD representative told residents that the project site was served with a violation notice.

The notice shows a citation issued to an employee of Project Navigator, an environmental consultant overseeing the day-to-day Ascon cleanup, for “discharging air contaminants/material that caused nuisance/annoyance to a considerable number of persons or the public.”

Ascon Landfill spokeswoman Mary Urashima said Monday evening that AQMD officials told the project team that the violation could have been the result of any confirmed odor.

Urashima said 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. Additionally, a taller barrier fence will be constructed along Hamilton Avenue and Magnolia Street, currently scheduled to begin the week of June 10, contingent on city approval.”

Hinojosa said in an interview Wednesday that the project managers realize “there’s a gap to bridge” and are making an effort to be “more understandable to the community.”

He referred to a comment made during the community meeting where a woman mentioned high levels of benzene, a carcinogen, detected in downwind samples shown in data provided on the Ascon website. However, Hinojosa said overall data levels indicate benzene levels shouldn’t be a concern to residents.

“We are scientists looking at data site operations, and it’s being handled in a safe manner,” he said. “What’s going off site isn’t significant.”

A group called the Huntington Beach Landfill Awareness Project created an online petition calling on project managers to stop the cleanup until chemicals are property contained onsite, provide an independent monitor and install an alarm system that can notify residents if high levels of pollutants are detecting leaving the project area. As of Monday, 2,180 had signed the petition.

The project’s environmental impact report states that dust and emissions are significant environmental effects that cannot be avoided, however, it does not foresee the respiratory health impacts residents described during the public meeting.

The potential for longterm health effects on a project of this type are unclear, said professor Oladele A. Ogunseitan, founding chair at UC Irvine’s Department of Population Health and Disease Prevention.

However, Ogunseitan said officials need to pay attention if residents claim they are experiencing effects.

“They’re very well-known dangerous chemicals on the list,” he said, referring to the volatile organic compounds listed in Ascon’s weekly air monitoring data. “Most are non-detected but most here are small amounts that accumulated exposure over time would be the concern. If people smell this over time, it adds to their lifetime exposure but we only have a snapshot of April.

“The problem is we do get small amounts of these chemicals from just living. You might smell new car, cleaning products, nail polish. There’s so many different ways we contact some of these things. You have to know what the cumulative exposure of an individual is. We only know from this one source. It’ll affect different households differently.”

Cleanup of the the 38-acre property — which served as a waste disposal facility from about 1938 to 1984 — is expected to continue through 2020.

Another community meeting about the cleanup project is scheduled for 6 p.m. Thursday June 6 at Edison High School, 21400 Magnolia St.

This article was originally published at 3:10 p.m. Monday and was updated Tuesday morning with comments from Ascon Landfill spokeswoman Mary Urashima.

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