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Residents by Trash Mountain Still Worry Though Smell Fades, Cleanup Is Planned

September 20, 1987|RICHARD HOLGUIN | Times Staff Writer

MONTEBELLO — Hank Yoshitake can once again see the top of Mt. Wilson from an upstairs window of his home--a view that was obscured for years by a mountain of trash that has begun to settle.

"It's still got a long way to go," Yoshitake said. "From my upstairs window, I could see the whole (San Gabriel) range" in the late 1970s.

And now Ed Grey's mind is at ease when he invites friends and relatives to his Montebello home. The pungent odors that once fanned out from the nearby Operating Industries Inc. landfill have mostly faded.

"When you decided to have people over, you'd pray, 'I hope it doesn't stink tonight,' " Grey said. "They'd say, 'Ooh, what's that smell?', and you'd try to change the subject."

For the Record
Los Angeles Times Thursday October 1, 1987 Home Edition Long Beach Part 9 Page 4 Column 3 Zones Desk 2 inches; 57 words Type of Material: Correction
The Times reported in its Sept. 20 Southeast/Long Beach sections that 82 firms accounted for about 70% of the volume of the Operating Industries Inc. landfill in southern Monterey Park. In fact, the 82 firms dumped about 70% of the liquid waste received by the landfill since late 1976, the earliest year for which records are available, said Lisa Haage, attorney for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

Uncomfortable Years

Yoshitake, Grey and thousands of other Montebello residents lived through the uncomfortable years when an old gravel pit grew into a mountain of garbage more than 200 feet above ground on Monterey Park's southern border with Montebello. Yoshitake, president of Homeowners to Eliminate Landfill Problems (HELP), lives on Yorktown Avenue within a block of the dump; Grey lives about four blocks away from the landfill on Appian Way.

As the trash mound grew skyward in the 1970s and early 1980s, the biting smell increased, and so did headaches, irritated eyes and sore throats, residents said.

Although the dump was closed in 1984, residents have lived with its lingering problems since. They say, though, that things are getting better in their neighborhoods.

The U. S. Environmental Protection Agency has targeted the landfill for priority cleanup with federal Superfund money. The agency is still studying how it will sanitize the toxic waste site, but interim measures to control the spread of leached chemicals and migrating gases have made life around the dump easier.

Five-Year Plan Announced

Although the final cleanup is not due to begin until sometime after 1991, the EPA announced a five-year plan in July to spend $5.1 million a year to monitor and control contaminants in the meantime.

The plan includes improvements to be made this fall in systems to collect leachate, control gas and drain the site. A 24-hour air sampling program is scheduled to begin in October, and an in-home air sampling program will start in early 1988.

Methane and other gases are generated as the trash in the landfill decomposes, and leachate, an oily and highly toxic liquid, oozes through the dump as rain water mixes with disposed chemicals and rotting trash.

Still to be decided is whether a leachate treatment plant will be built on the site. Currently, leachate is stored in tanks and trucked to a treatment plant in Vernon.

Residents say there are signs of improvement on several fronts.

Detectors Removed

Sometimes, the improvement lies in what they don't see. For instance, gas monitoring stations--which once detected cancer-causing vinyl chloride at levels exceeding state standards--are gone. The South Coast Air Quality Management District removed the detectors a year ago after levels dropped well below state standards, said spokesman Ron Ketcham.

Another improvement is aesthetic: The trash mountain has been shrinking about 10 feet a year as garbage decomposes and settles.

Earlier this year, the EPA spent about $1 million to build a buttress where the landfill looms over the backyards of homes along Ashiya Avenue in Montebello. The slopes of the landfill were graded, and plants were sown to stabilize them and improve their appearance.

The EPA works constantly to keep at least some earth over the rubbish, which always seems to find its way to the surface.

"After the rainy season, there is erosion, and we need to make repairs pretty frequently," said EPA geologist Michele S. Dermer.

'Air Dike' for Gases

The EPA continues to run a gas flaring and leachate collection system and an "air dike," which uses compressed air to keep gases from escaping into the neighborhoods surrounding the landfill.

Dermer said the EPA staff is recommending building the leachate plant on one of three sites in the dump area. A final decision will not be made later this month.

From 4,000 to 6,000 gallons of leachate are collected at the landfill each day, and that volume is expected to rise when the collection system is improved, said Kevin Dick, remedial project manager.

The leachate plant could be used beyond the five-year interim plan if the EPA decides that it is needed during the final cleanup, Dick said.

Yoshitake said his group would like the EPA to delay building the treatment plant until further studies determine the volume of leachate at the site.

Change Feared

Although the EPA has guaranteed that the plant will treat only leachate from the OII landfill, residents fear that this could change if other dumps want to send leachate to the plant in an emergency, Yoshitake said.

One change that has occurred in recent months is an improved relationship between Monterey Park and Montebello.

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