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11 Arrested in Protest Near Toxic Waste Site

August 13, 1985|PATRICIA LOPEZ | Times Staff Writer

CASMALIA, Calif. — Residents of this rural town north of Santa Barbara dumped bales of hay to block trucks carrying toxic wastes to a nearby dump Monday, contending that the hazardous wastes were making them sick.

Eleven people were arrested during the protest, including nine members of the environmental group Greenpeace and two town residents who placed themselves in front of trucks headed for the site.

Before the arrests about 70 protesters lined the road to the landfill, chanting "No more waste" while Greenpeace members chained themselves to a tractor in the middle of the road.

The 250-acre Casmalia landfill, which was opened in 1972 to store agricultural and petroleum waste from Santa Barbara County, now is one of only two remaining landfills accepting Southern California's most hazardous waste.

As other landfills have closed, the volume of waste at the Casmalia facility has increased steadily, with more than 50 trucks a day dumping waste into open ponds. More than 40,000 gallons of contaminated water are trucked in daily from the closed Stringfellow Acid Pits alone.

Casmalia residents, who live slightly more than a mile from the dump, blame that increase for the rash of respiratory and other ailments they say they have developed in the last year.

Rancher Dave Tompkins, 66, said he and his wife experience headaches, runny eyes and occasional nausea from the fumes emanating from the dump.

"I get pretty bad headaches sometimes, and I'm not a very fragile person," said Tompkins, who owns a 1,500-acre spread just outside Casmalia. "Last week the smell was so strong, it woke me right out of my sleep, at about 2 a.m. We had to shut all the windows."

Maria Gracia, 49, said she has been plagued with constant headaches and watering eyes, while her 10-year-old son has suffered diarrhea, cramps and vomiting after exposure to the fumes.

"Sometimes when I run or ride I throw up, or I can't breathe," said Jose Gracia, 10, holding a placard that read, "Could you study with a headache?"

Jose was one of more than 20 Casmalia schoolchildren sent home last November when fumes overpowered teachers and children alike. School Principal Ken McCallip said the school now is operating on a day-to-day basis.

"Any day we think it's getting to be too much for the kids, we're going to send them home and at least give them the opportunity to get out of town for a few hours," McCallip said.

Kenneth Hunter, the landfill owner, attended Monday's protest and maintained that "there is no smell coming from this dump." Hunter contended that the landfill poses no long-term danger to residents.

"You could cover those acid ponds tomorrow and grow Christmas trees on them," he said.

Santa Barbara County Supervisor Toru Miyoshi, who represents Casmalia, said the county is forming a medical advisory committee to review possible health effects from the dump, and is paying for an independent odor test of Casmalia's air. A complete environmental assessment report on the dump is due next month, he said.

"I think air quality is a real problem out there," said Miyoshi. "Personally, I don't think Casmalia Resources is in compliance. Independent tests already have shown small amounts of benzene and dioxin in the air." Both substances are known carcinogens.

State Department of Health Services spokesman Nestor Acedero said the landfill has been cited repeatedly for violations, including its ground-water monitoring practices. However, he said, no ground-water contamination has been found.

A May, 1984, inspection uncovered eight violations that resulted in civil penalties of $100,000, Acedero said. That same month the Environmental Protection Agency fined Hunter $50,000 for deficiencies discovered during a December, 1983, inspection.

According to Acedero, the state has also forced Hunter to shut down a spray system installed a year ago--when most residents began complaining of fume-related illness. At that time liquid waste and contaminated rainwater were being sprayed onto the landfill's sloping hillsides in an effort to speed evaporation.

A Wilmington man was accused of violating toxic waste storage laws. Part II, Page 1.

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