EPA Strikes Final Deal at Superfund Site after Three Decades of Wrangling

Tuesday, February 19, 2013


After decades of controversy and $600 million worth of cleaning up, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) closed the books on one of the nation’s worst hazardous waste sites—10 miles east of downtown Los Angeles.

The EPA signed off on a $1.62 million settlement with 47 parties who sent material to a former 190-acre landfill in Monterey Park. They were the last of more than a thousand users of the landfill who paid hundreds of millions of dollars in fines and cleanup for problems that included toxic gas emissions, contaminated surface water runoff and groundwater pollution.

The Superfund site was a sand and gravel pit until 1948, when the city and a private garbage disposal company converted it into a landfill. Four years later, Operating Industries, Inc. took over and in 1954 the regional water board gave a thumbs up to dumping hazardous liquid wastes there.

The Pomona Freeway split the landfill in two when it was built in 1974, and a year later the Montebello subdivision tract was built next door. By 1978, strong odors were reported coming from the landfill, which didn’t deter Getty Synthetic Fuels from beginning to extract gas the next year and selling it to Southern California Gas Co.

The situation got ugly in the 1980s and quickly escalated.

In 1981, Los Angeles County health officials cited the dump for not having a plan to control hazardous gases and in 1982 liquids were spotted leaking into the Montebello neighborhood.

Then came the rain, causing mudslides in the hilly area, more oozing liquids and record-high levels of vinyl chloride in the air. State officials started taking notice just before an underground fire in 1984 forced closure of the dump, which was then declared the 16th -worst hazardous waste site out of 97 in the state.

Getty ended its operations there in 1986, the same year the federal government declared it a Superfund site. Superfund is a federal environmental program that identifies problems and facilitates cleanups for abandoned hazardous waste sites. It took six years for the EPA and 100 companies that had dumped wastes at the location to sign a preliminary accord for cleaning it up, but it wasn’t until 2002 that a final remedy settlement was approved.

Over the course of time, 6 million cubic yards of earth were removed and replaced with a geosynthetic clay liner and a six-foot-thick cover of clean soil and vegetation.

After 30 years, the EPA says it is just about done and the newly-landscaped green hill within three miles of 20,000 people (and 1,000 feet from 2,000 residents) ensures “that Monterey Park and Montebello residents are protected from the years of wastes that were dumped at the site.” 

However, City Manager Paul Talbot told the San Gabriel Valley Tribune that the southern section of the former landfill, where most of the worst dumping took place, will likely never be eligible for redevelopment.

But the northern side will be the site of the Monterey Park's Market Place shopping center, scheduled to break ground this year.    

–Ken Broder


To Learn More

$1.6 Million EPA Settlement Concludes Monterey Park Landfill Cleanup Efforts (by Lauren Gold, San Gabriel Valley Tribune)

Operating Industries, Inc. Landfill: In California, Many Hands Make Greener Work (U.S. Environmental Protection Agency)

Operating Industries Inc., Landfill (Wikipedia)


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