Down the street on Magnolia, just a few blocks form the beach, is the ASCON Landfill Site. This 38-acre parcel of land is a toxic waste dump containing waste from construction and oil drilling.
It is considered a California Superfund site, meaning that it is one of the most toxic in the state. According to the California EPA, the area “operated as a landfill from 1938 through 1984…in its early years came from oil drilling operations, including waste drilling muds, waste water brines, and other drilling wastes.
“From 1957 to 1971, chromic acid, sulfuric acid, aluminum slag, fuel oils, styrene (a form of plastic), and other wastes were also disposed on the site. These liquid and semi-liquid wastes were deposited into open lagoons and pits.”
“From 1971 to 1984, some of the lagoons and pits were filled in or covered with solid waste materials (construction debris).”
This news has to be shocking for anyone living in Huntington Beach. Lagoons of sludge 25-feet deep, drilling wastes, pits of slag/acid/oils/sytrene, and then covered over with more waste.
Consider that across the street is Edison High School where thousands of kids, teachers, and parents spend their days, and on the other sides are houses and a popular park, Edison Community Park (another former landfill with methane gas leaks).
The news doesn’t get better.
An investigative report from the OC Weekly in 2004 discusses four children from the area who contracted a rare form of brain cancer.
“Something may be seriously amiss in southeast Huntington Beach…four children from that area died between February 2000 and June 2003 of a deadly brain cancer called brainstem glioma…an exceedingly rare cancer.”
“We know that a cluster of cancers in one geographic area doesn’t necessarily mean that there is something in the immediate environment that caused it…We also know that it is impossible to gather meaningful statistics with only four cases. The causes of most childhood brain tumors, including brainstem gliomas, are unknown. But we do know that exposure to certain chemicals can cause cancer.”
“It seems suspicious to us that four children who lived and played near this toxic waste dump contracted an extremely rare cancer. At the Ascon site, an oil worker became ill after contacting water running off the site. Ground squirrels living on the site appear, from the condition of their coats, to be in poor health…CalEPA recently found a 50-year-old tank of improperly stored flammable fuels that they didn’t know was there.”
Ok, finally some good news. A major step in the clean-up was recently completed, called the Interim Removal Measure (IRM) (pdf):
“The objective of IRM is to enable assessment of the materials underneath the tarry waste of Lagoons 1 and 2. These waste materials beneath the tarry liquids are of unknown composition and geotechnical quality and have not been assessed with the tarry liquids present due to worker safety concerns.”
The project was completed in December 2010 after “58,000 tons of tarry materials and firming additive have been removed from Lagoons 1 and 2 at the Site, and transported to and disposed of at the designated disposal facility.”
Since then the city and the contractors have been testing the groundwater, stormwater, air quality, etc, and in March 2011, the project was considered complete.
This is a major milestone for the dump because several past attempts have resulted in complete failure. From the OC Grand Jury investigation (pdf):
“This site is named for two companies that tried, in vain, to clean up the site. Nesi acquired an option on the site and tried to pump it clean. That did not work and Nesi folded. An attempt was made by Ascon, an acronym for the asphalt and concrete that had been dumped on the site. Ascon was not successful, either.”
What happens next is unknown.
The government agency responsible for the clean-up will continue its slow progress. Further tests, including investigating the lower levels of Lagoons 1, 2 will be conducted. Then planning, public hearings, and finally another clean-up.
With so much waste on-site this will take decades.
At some point, the land will be clean enough for a private company to complete the process. The land is in such a valuable location that many developers will gladly take on the last steps of cleaning to reap the profits.
In the meantime, we all are stuck with a remnant of our industrial past.
For updates, visit the community website for the ASCON Landfill.