Ascon readies for cleanup

When Ann Johnson moved into her house on Regatta Drive behind Magnolia Street near Hamilton Avenue, the Ascon Landfill was still the dumping ground for construction debris and industrial and oil wastes.

Across the street, Edison High School was just a field, and adjacent Edison Park was another landfill.

In 1964, living next to the Ascon Landfill wasn't a concern.

"It's always been there," Johnson said.

The 38-acre landfill at 21641 Magnolia St. was used to store waste and construction debris from 1938 to 1984.

Johnson, 73, has watched the site change hands throughout the years and has seen half-hearted efforts made to clean it up, but now the state Department of Toxic Substances Control has taken over the project and will begin removing some of the construction and hazardous waste from the site.

"I'm just glad they're going to clear it out, clean it out," Johnson said. "Because you just don't know what's in there."

Officials were expected to begin work June 5, but it was pushed back and equipment is expected to begin being transported to the site next week, Sandra Friedman, the spokeswoman for the Department of Toxic Substances Control, said in an e-mail.

Waste removal from 12- to 17-foot-deep pits, referred to as "lagoons," in the interior southwest section of the site, is expected to start July 26.

The department will spend the next several months digging about 15 feet into lagoons 1 and 2, and pulling up tarry oil production materials and the accumulation of years of hidden debris. There are five lagoons on the site.

Johnson said she is somewhat concerned about digging up long-buried, sometimes toxic, waste, but she would "rather have them clean it up now."

While Johnson is sanguine about the cleanup, her sister Barbara Thomas, who moved in about 17 years ago, is more concerned.

"God, it's just really scary," she said.

Thomas said she is concerned about the wind blowing the unearthed waste to their house and will have to start closing her normally open window and give her backyard-grown fruits and vegetables an extra wash.

"It is a concern as they dig deeper in there and it becomes airborne," she said.

While unknown waste will be dug up and put on trucks to be transported to the Buttonwillow Landfill in Kern County, residents aren't in danger, project manager Safouh Sayed said.

"There's no immediate danger to any residents that do not live on the site," he said.

Sayed and other engineers are expected to be on hand every day to oversee the project and inspect and decontaminate the trucks. Officials will be using dust suppressants, while air quality technicians will on the site with hand-held monitors to take readings of the air quality and air monitoring stations will be around the perimeter of the site, officials said.

The preliminary removal will help officials determine exactly what is inside the lagoons to better tailor the final removal measure to the site's needs, Sayed said.

The excavation of lagoons 1 and 2 is expected to continue through the first quarter of 2011. Once the initial removal is completed, the department will finalize its environmental impact report to begin the final removal measure.

Officials are proposing removing the majority of the waste and then capping off the site to stop rain water from getting in and air from escaping.

Who To Call

Anyone with questions or concerns should call a 24-hour hotline for the project at (714) 388-1833. For more information on the Ascon Landfill Site cleanup, visit http://www.ascon-hb.com.

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