Tons of sludge on the way to Toland Landfill spills on roadway
By Peggy Kelly
Santa Paula News
Published: January 25, 2013
A truckload of tons of sludge, gear shifting on a curve and accelerating for a steep hill, triggered a spill on Toland Road Monday, an incident being investigated by the Ventura Regional Sanitation District to determine if the spill resulted from mechanical failure or human error. The approximately 10:15 a.m. spill caused neighbors to worry about possible contamination from the sludge, which was being transported to Toland Road Landfill for heat treatment processing.
According to VRSD Executive Director Mark Lawler the January 21 spill dumped about four tons of sewer sludge onto Toland Road, about 100 feet north of Highway 126. Lawler said VRSD uses “one hauler,” Central Coast, for the transport of sludge to the landfill while the agency owns the trailers that each hold 25 tons.
The load of sludge had originated in Ventura and apparently there was no spillage on the way to the landfill. Lawler said once the truck turned left onto Toland Road it shifted gears and accelerated to start the climb to the landfill, moves that caused the load to shift and then spill out the back.
“What we’re thinking is it was either human error or mechanical failure... nothing was apparent that indicated the failure” of the latch on the back of the trailer that allowed the sludge to spill onto the roadway. Lawler said the spill was reported immediately to landfill personnel, who responded to the scene “within minutes.”
Several nearby residents who have been complaining of odor coming from the sludge operation at the landfill were also were on scene to witness the sludge spilling out of the back of the trailer. One of the neighbors said Santa Paula Fire responded and was on scene for about 20 minutes, and they were unsure if county Environmental Health was notified.
Lawler said there was a response from hazardous material personnel and the California Highway Patrol and that the cleanup took several hours. Absorbent materials including wood chips were used to soak up the moisture and remnants left from the spilled load, and Lawler said a street sweeper finished the cleanup.
Neighbor Jason Raley said the spill and the possibility of contamination worried him and others in the farming areas near the landfill. The spill occurred across the highway from the historic Santa Clara School, known as the Little Red Schoolhouse, which was closed Monday due to the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. holiday.
Raley disagreed with a VRSD staffer on scene who he said told him the spilled load did not present a hazard. During “all of the hearings” held in recent years that resulted in the VRSD receiving a county permit to install equipment to dry the sludge, Raley said, some issues were obvious.
“Although it was clear” sewer sludge “can be treated, it doesn’t make it pathogen free... that’s why it has to be cooked. If it wasn’t hazardous,” said Raley, “why worry about treating it again?”