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The Laytonville Dump

The headwaters of the South Fork of the Eel River have been continuously tainted by polluted seepage from the Laytonville landfill for 50 years. Preliminary results from a community health study currently underway suggest people in Laytonville may be up to five times more likely to have cancer than elsewhere in California. And the California State Water Resources Control Board identified a significant pollution in 1974, but the dump continued to operate until 1993, was poorly capped in 1997, and has never been fully remediated as ordered.

Longtime Laytonville local, Peggy Hoaglin, has been fighting the dump and its pollution since the 1980s, and she has enlisted the help of her Pastor, David Sanchez formerly of the Redway Babtist Church for 25 years. They held a community meeting at the Laytonville Lyons Club Monday the 26th of March to alert the community of the preliminary data coming in from a community health survey being conducted in consultation with Green Action for Health and Environmental Justice.

Pastor Sanchez opened the meeting. He explained he’s known Peggy for the 20 years she served as the Secretary for the Redway Baptist church just across the corner from the KMUD radio station.

Sanchez said he didn’t want to be involved and didn’t get involved until he came to Laytonville to pastor at the church there, though he continues to reside in Redway. He told the people at the meeting, “I pastored her church in Redway. I just said, ‘I’m the pastor of the church and that’s my focus.’ I basically just ‘stiff-armed’ her for the better part of twenty years. But when I came down [to Laytonville] to pastor, I began to see…I began to realize there’s a problem here.”

Sanchez referenced the opinion of some who think the problem is being over-estimated, when he said, “Here’s what we know from someone in the highest levels of the BIA (Bureau of Indian Affairs), ‘It would take billions of dollars to clean this up. If it could even be cleaned up.’ Did I say that? Did Peggy Hoaglin say that? Did Green Action and Bradley Angel say that? No, that came from the federal Bureau of Indian Affairs.” 

Sanchez concluded that the dump is “something they’ve been dealing with for many years. And that man looked at us and just simply said, ‘It’s too big. It can’t be cleaned up really. We’d have to throw billions of dollars at it’.”

Meanwhile, Sanchez reported that while not yet complete, the map of Laytonville is heavily dotted with homes where people have cancer diagnoses. “I want you to see it’s not just a Cahto [Rancheria] problem. We have a comprehensive problem on the Rancheria and Laytonville. How much of Laytonville? I don’t know. Why don’t I know? Because there isn’t sufficient testing. We need more testing. Real, earnest, genuine, sincere, fact-finding testing that doesn’t have a political agenda — because your life doesn’t have a political agenda.”

Sanchez points out the problem does not stop in Laytonville, it flows all the way to the sea because the dump’s leachate seeps into Cahto Creek, empties into Ten Mile Creek, empties into the South Fork Eel River, which Sanchez points out, is a top five priority watershed for the California Water Action Plan

Clean-up and Abatement Ordered in 1974

The problems leaching from the dump were ordered to be discontinued by the State Water Resources Control Board in 1974 when Clean up and Abatement Order #74-95 was issued. David Joseph from the NCWRCB wrote, “The County of Mendocino is negligently or intentionally causing or permitting the discharge of leachate…” And, “The discharge of said waste is unreasonably affecting the water quality in that it is deleterious to fish and other aquatic life which exist in said waters to a degree which creates a hazard to the public health since downstream waters are used for domestic and agricultural water supply and will therefore create a condition of pollution which threatens to continue unless the discharge of waste is permanently abated.” And ordered, “Permanently abate the threat of any further discharge of waste to the waters of Cahto Creek and its tributaries by November 1, 1974.”

Peggy Hoaglin's Activism

Peggy Hoaglin grew up moving in and out of Laytonville and married her high school sweetheart Louis Hoaglin. She still gets a schoolgirl’s twinkle in her eye when she refers to him, even casually. It’s heartbreaking to her that her beloved husband has stage four metastized kidney cancer.

Hoaglin joined neighbors fighting to close the dump back in the 1980s. Then in 1993, Hoaglin’s granddaughter was born and immediately suffered severe breathing difficulty. The dump’s Volatile Organic Compound (VOC) emissions were the suspected cause when the three-month old infant required CPR and had to spend two weeks in ICU after she stopped breathing altogether one day. Within a month of that incident Hoaglin said she chained herself to the dump’s fence.

Hoaglin said the community’s activism finally got the attention of the county government and the dump was ordered closed later in 1993. Although it was capped in 1997, it was never lined and continues to leak into the groundwater.

Because of their granddaughter’s breathing problems, the Hoaglin family moved over near Covelo where they remained until her husband had a heart attack a few years ago. He was subsequently diagnosed with the kidney cancer. As a result, they have returned to Laytonville to be closer to health services.

When they returned, Hoaglin picked up where she left off, and although the dump is now closed, the pollution has never been remediated. Hoaglin is on the case of the Laytonville dump once again.

Hoaglin has reached out to Green Action for Health and Environmental Justice. Green Action is assiting Laytonville residents to conduct a community health survey.

Getting the Data

According to its Executive Director, Green Action's mission focuses on environment justice in low income communities and communities of color. Green Action works to empower residents so they can effectively interact with government and regulatory agencies to protect their environment and their health.

Bradley Angel from Green Action explained the health survey. “We’ve worked together to develop the survery. And those of you who’ve filled out the survery, you didn’t see leading questions like ‘don’t you think the Laytonville dump has caused your whatever.’ It doesn’t mention [the dump.] It asks, if you live on the rancheria or another part of town. And it lists a lot of different potential health problems.”

Angel really stressed the confidential nature of the survey. The addresses are there simply for mapping.

Angel said the results, though preliminary, are alarming enough that its organizers wanted to get the word out qickly and encourage the remainder or the survey’s recipients to complete the survey.

Five hundred and eleven surveys have gone out to people living in the north end of Long Valley. 169 have been returned. Of those 169, 23% of the respondants from Cahto Rancheria, just west of Laytonville and immediately next to the dump, have reported cancer diagnosis in their household and 19% of the respondants from Laytonville have reported a cancer diagnosis. This compares with a cancer rate of about 5% in Mendocino County as a whole. According to the Green Action statisticians, two cancers are being identified at statistically significant levels—brain cancer and cervical cancer are both showing a .04% occurance compared to a statewide probability of a half percent (.005%).

Government Analysis Continues to Show 'No Problems.'

Cancer clusters are not common. The American Cancer Society page on cancer clusters says, “most of the suspected clusters (as many as 4 of 5) are determined not to be true clusters and no further investigation is done.”

And in fact, California Department of Health Services wrote a report in 2005. The report references two sources: a 1994 cancer cluster investigation by the Mendocino County Health Department and the California Cancer Registry.

The 2005 CDHS report reads, “The findings [of the cancer cluster investigation] showed that cancer mortality rates within a 1-mile radius of the landfill were similar to those for Mendocino County as a whole. It is possible that inaccuracies in cancer mortality records limited the ability of the studies to estimate cancer rates for this population. Although the MCHD and CCR cancer estimates may be somewhat wrong, there is no way to get a more accurate estimate.”

The report includes some suprising analysis, “Using available data, CDHS concludes that playing in the leachate, swimming in the sedimentation ponds, as well as playing in Cahto Creek or puddles formed from surface water runoff, and eating fish or eel from Cahto Creek in the past and currently pose no apparent public health hazard. However, long-term exposure to the liquid that periodically leaks (leachate) from edges of the cap could pose a health hazard in the future.”

Describing the cap on the landfill, the 2005 CDHS report says, “All sides of the capped landfill are steep, and at least one side is seismically unstable because of poor design. Gaps are occurring at the edge of the landfill cap, and it is known that water containing VOCs has seeped from these gaps. These very real concerns add to the burdens that the landfill places on nearby residents.”

The 2005 CDHS report acknowledges there is a lot of missing data, but the Laytonville CSD tests the water from Cahto Creek regularly and has found no problems associated with the dump.

Seeking All Surveys

David Sanchez’s concerns are not yet abated though. Sanchez described his observations of the problem and the need for Greenaction’s community health survey, “You all know someone that has cancer, leukemia, birth defects, unusual diseases or has died of the same. There’s a problem. How far it spreads, how deep it is, I don’t know that. We need our government’s help to figure that out. We’re not getting it really.”

Meeting organizers stressed that the Community Health Survey results are preliminary because only a third of the surveys have been returned thus far. Residents of Laytonville who have received the community health survey are encouraged to complete and return it. If there is no health problem in your home, that is also necessary information because then the results will accurately reflect the scope of the problem,

(Previously published in the Humboldt Independent and Redheaded Blackbelt/ 

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