News Room

Down in The Dumps—An uncontrolled, underground reaction is creating a local landfill nightmare

By Brian Kabateck

Residents are gagging and vomiting from the stench. Noxious fumes cause headaches, respiratory problems, and eye irritation. People feel imprisoned in their homes. Children are unable to go out and play. School days are disrupted. Contaminated water seeps into the surrounding environment. Worries over dwindling property values. Thousands upon thousands of complaints. Regulatory agencies issue over a hundred violations. The list goes on.

Two municipal solid waste landfills—the 639-acre Chiquita Canyon just northwest of Santa Clarita and the 363-acre Sunshine Canyon to the south—are spewing putrid gasses and contaminated liquid waste into the environment.

Chiquita Canyon

On February 22, 2024, federal regulators called Chiquita an “imminent and substantial endangerment.” The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) ordered the landfill’s operator, Chiquita Canyon LLC (CCL), “to take immediate steps to protect human health and the environment.”

“Today’s order is the result of local, state, and federal collaboration to better protect the health of nearby residents and the surrounding environment,” said EPA Pacific Southwest Regional Administrator Martha Guzman.

According to The Los Angeles Times’ Climate California section at Chiquita, “The source of the growing crisis is a heat-generating chemical reaction that probably began deep within the landfill in May of 2022. Extreme heat and growing pressure within the dump have caused piping-hot, contaminated water to spill onto the surface or occasionally erupt like a geyser.”

Although the catalyst remains somewhat mysterious, experts say temperatures in a decades-old (and long-closed) area of the underground dump have reached a smoldering 200 degrees, causing a smell of burned garbage to fill the air for miles. The heat and chemical reactions have damaged and overwhelmed containment systems.

In 2023, the South Coast Air Quality Monitoring District (SCAQMD) received more than 6,800 odor nuisance complaints from residents near Chiquita Canyon. The site is also leaching polluted water containing the hazardous chemical benzene.

Despite a growing outcry to shutter Chiquita—which was scheduled to be closed down in 2017 but received an extension until 2037—, there are serious concerns that even closure would not solve the problem, as the chemical reaction causing the overheating is in an inactive portion of the dump anyway.

The deadline for impacted residents to apply for Los Angeles County’s Landfill Utility Relief Program was March 31, 2024. However, a separate, additional Community Relief Program, sponsored by Chiquita Canyon’s operators, Waste Connections, which will provide financial assistance for “Temporary relocation, Home hardening, [and] Increased utility bills,” is available. After wording on the program’s website sparked concerns from residents that applying for and accepting relief from the benefit fund would impact their legal rights, Waste Connections clarified the terms:

“In an effort to further clarify our community relief program, we are making updates to our website and the application form to make it abundantly clear that anyone who participates in the relief program is not waiving any claims they may have against Chiquita Canyon Landfill or related entities, and is not waiving any additional damages to which they may be entitled,” read a statement from John Perkey, Waste Connections vice president and legal counsel. 

Numerous lawsuits seeking damages for nuisance and negative health impacts have already been filed against Chiquita’s operators.

Sunshine Canyon

At Sunshine Canyon in Sylmar, the heavy rains of early 2023 eroded cover, exposed trash, and allowed water to seep into the landfill, soaking the subterranean garbage and fueling bacteria growth, which is now releasing odors of methane and hydrogen sulfide. Efforts are underway at the facility to reduce odors through new wells and pumps, but area locals say odor and dust are a constant problem. Wayde Hunter, president of the North Valley Coalition of Concerned Citizens, told the L.A. Times that residents feel like they’re being “buried in trash.”

Despite these problems, both facilities continue to operate, each receiving over 7000 tons of trash daily. Together, the Sunshine Canyon and Chiquita Canyon landfills take in a combined total of over 2 million tons of garbage a year—nearly three-quarters of the county’s solid waste.

If you are a resident of a community near Chiquita Canyon or Sunshine Canyon landfill, and your family’s quality of life has been diminished by pollution, nauseating odors, and other environmental concerns, our litigation team at Kabateck LLP wants to hear your story. We are committed to helping those impacted by the current dump disasters get the relief they need and deserve. Please contact us today for a free case evaluation: (213) 217-5000 or