In wake of SCWW closure SP takes strong stance on illegal waste dumping

December 12, 2014
Santa Paula News

If you see something say something, especially since the city is on the alert for those who might illegally dump hazardous waste down city manholes.

Interim Public Works Director Brian Yanez said the city is taking proactive measures - including surveillance cameras - to stymie those that would break the law now that Santa Clara Waste Water is closed.

Specifically, Yanez said there is a concern that those with hazardous materials would dump the waste down a city manhole: "There should be only two groups of people on our streets working on or in our manholes.... American Water Company and the City of Santa Paula."

Santa Paula he noted, "Is a sleepy little town... so we've put some cameras up in strategic places where people might be tempted to pull a manhole cover and dump something... "

The SCWW facility, located west of the city on Mission Rock Road, has been closed since November 18 when an unknown chemical(s) exploded, causing the back of a vacuum truck to blow out at 3:45 a.m. A little less than five hours later there was a second explosion when a vapor cloud ignited setting off some of the highly toxic chemicals used in the facility's operations. Due to the unknown chemicals fire fighters had to let the resulting fire - which created a three-mile wide plume of toxic smoke - burn out on its own.

In all, about 55 people were injured, including three Santa Paula Firefighters. The firefighters are on leave while being treated for exposure to unknown toxic chemicals that have caused respiratory and other symptoms; due to contamination issues, a SPFD engine is considered a loss. A city mechanic who evaluated the engine is now also ill.

Two men on the site at the time the explosion occurred were also injured - one critically - while dozens of others sought treatment at local hospitals for various symptoms of chemical exposure.

Santa Clara Waste Water has been shutdown, the District Attorney's Office has launched a criminal investigation and local, state and federal officials are trying to determine just what exploded and how to get rid of it. So far laboratories have been leery of testing the unknown substance that when dry crystallizes and has such a volatile nature that it ignites when disturbed.

Yanez noted SCWW "primarily served domestic, industrial and petroleum generators throughout Southern California, accepting hundreds of non-hazardous waste streams.

"The closure of this facility has raised concerns that SCWW clients may decide to discharge their waste within city limits," and the city wants to "raise awareness of the increased possibility that an illegal discharge may occur now that SCWW is closed."

Per state and city code, Yanez said, "It is unlawful for any user to contribute or cause to be contributed, directly or indirectly, any pollutant or wastewater which will interfere with the operation or performance of the city's sewer system."

The only vehicles or equipment that should be working in or around a city manhole "Should be American Water Company and the City of Santa Paula... these vehicles can be easily identified by logos on the doors."

In addition to the surveillance cameras to monitor manholes, city workers will also be securing the covers "so they won't be accessible at all to anyone except to staff... "

Yanez said if Santa Paula citizens or city staff members witness any other unauthorized personnel near manholes or see anything they consider suspicious, they are to notify Santa Paula Police Department at 911 or Public Works at (805) 312-1423 or 933-4212 x306.

"Staff is prepared to respond immediately," said Yanez, especially as materials being dumped likely would be highly hazardous and could be at least damaging and at the worst life threatening.

"You can see why we really appreciate everyone's assistance and cooperation when it comes to this issue," said Yanez.

"It really is an important matter... "

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