Mishandling of chemicals caused explosion. Giving Santa Clara Waste a second chance is risky

The Santa Clara Waste Water facility in Santa Paula is in a league of its own locally for its documented dangerous practices and mishandling of chemicals. The site of a 2014 explosion which left several first responders permanently unable to work, it now could reopen under a new name.

In August 2015, a Ventura County grand jury indicted nine individuals and two corporate entities on multiple criminal counts surrounding the explosion including conspiracy to dispose of hazardous waste, failure to warn of a serious concealed danger, handling hazardous waste with a reckless disregard for human life, withholding information regarding a substantial danger to public safety, filing a false or forged document, and dissuading a witness.

In a plea arrangement announced June 7, 2019, Santa Clara Waste Water Company and its parent company Green Compass Environmental Solutions LLC will pay $2,797,621 in restitution to the victims of the explosion. This is in addition to $800,000 of restitution previously paid by other convicted co-defendants, for a total amount of court-ordered victim restitution of $3,597,621. In addition to the two corporate defendants that entered pleas, eight of the nine charged individual defendants have been convicted pursuant to pleas, with a single remaining defendant awaiting trial.

Yet, the facility is pursuing a reopening and wants us to believe conditions will be different.

According to a letter sent by the City of Oxnard in response to the proposed reopening, the facility once again wants to use a 12-mile pipeline to dispose of its toxic waste through the Oxnard Water Treatment Plant.

Oxnard vehemently protested the application, citing its past finding of radioactive waste from the facility — consistent with oil and gas production — that it is unable to treat. The city also believes its 60-year-old pipeline, now exhibiting significant corrosion, is not sufficient to move the sort of waste the Santa Paula facility discharges. They further point to a proposal to handle a chemical at the facility similar in composition to the one that caused the explosion, and the potential for hazardous waste from the facility to enter Oxnard's drinking and agricultural water supply untreated.

CFROG concurs with Oxnard officials that the facility's past record, combined with insufficient evidence that the proprietors are prepared for the risks involved, make this a bad bet for the community.