An aerial view of Santa Clara Waster Water, where the hazardous material related incidents occurred Tuesday, November 18. A 1-mile evacuation zone was later reduced to 1/2 mile and businesses and residents were told last Saturday they could go back that afternoon. There is no estimated completion date of the cleanup of the still unidentified substances that first spilled and then later ignited, injuring 52 people.

Explosions: Neighbors had complained to county about night traffic, fumes

November 26, 2014
Santa Paula News

Warrants were served last Friday in Santa Paula as part of the investigation into the cause of a series of explosions that rocked an area just west of the city Tuesday morning, which now has become ground zero of a major monitoring and yet to be launched clean-up effort by various official and private agencies.

Several people that own businesses and live near Santa Clara Waste Water, located at 815 Mission Rock Road, said facility operations have been a rising concern for more than a year as fumes worsened, noise increased and night traffic of trucks coming in and out of the treatment plant grew to “horrendous” proportions. 

Two men at the time the initial explosion occurred at 3:45 a.m. November 18 were hospitalized with most serious injuries; one reportedly was an employee of Santa Clara Waste Water, which is owned by Green Compass, and the other an employee of Patriot Environmental Service which utilizes the facility for their cleanup waste.

Now some are questioning the announcement that SCWW has contracted with Patriot to conduct the cleanup of the still closed “hot zone” which will be overseen by Ventura County Environmental Health and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. According to a handout at a community meeting Saturday, the Center for Toxicology and Environmental Health, L.L.C. (CTEH®) has contract toxicologists also on scene.

Nils and Jenny Castillo, owners of Castillo Motorsports adjacent to SCWW, said they have contacted county government officials numerous times for more than a year regarding their concerns.

The Castillos’ said fumes, noise and ever-increasing - and now “horrendous” - night traffic is using the facility outside of normal business hours.

Jenny Castillo said, “We’ve called everybody we can think of,” only to be told by county officials that the company was abiding to the county permit.

In several instances, the Castillos’ said they complained directly to SCWW, which tried to mitigate some specific noise concerns.

Santa Clara Waste Water’s county permit notes the company may operate between 5 a.m. and 11 p.m. Mondays through Saturdays. But the permit also allows the company’s operating hours to be expanded as necessary to meet heavy demand or for emergencies.

Judging from the night traffic at the facility, “There’s either a tremendous demand,” according to another Mission Rock area business owner who asked to remain anonymous, “or an awful lot of emergencies... “

Ventura County District Attorney Office investigators took records from SCWW after the blast and served a warrant on a Santa Paula property used by the company last Friday. 

The DA’s office is also reviewing documents kept by the City of Oxnard, which receives waste from the company that is run through a pipeline from SCWW to the Oxnard’s wastewater treatment plant.

Oxnard, which treats the water and then discharges it into the ocean, reportedly found high radioactivity in waste in September, found to be connected to a Santa Clara Waste Water discharge. 

On Saturday the clock was ticking for more than two-dozen businesses and about six families who were told at a multi-agency community meeting that at 4 p.m. they could return to the area they had been evacuated from since Tuesday November 18 explosions and fire.

“It’s been a pretty rough week,” Ventura County Fire Captain Mike Lindbery told the crowd that included Santa Paula Mayor Rick Cook.

But there was a caveat for those told they could return: they must be prepared to again evacuate if necessary during the cleanup effort for the still undetermined, unstable and unpredictable chemical that exploded early Tuesday morning November 18, causing 52 people - including three Santa Paula Firefighters and an additional seven firefighters from other agencies - to be treated for symptoms of exposure to toxins.

Held at the Santa Paula Community Century the meeting drew about 70 business owners, residents and interested community members who heard from county fire, law enforcement and environmental health personnel as well as a representative of the US Environmental Protection Agency about the situation in the 1/2 mile evacuation area surrounding Santa Clara Waste Water, owned by Green Compass Co.

Farmers who had been downwind of the explosion, which occurred November 18 at 3:45 a.m., were advised by Korinne Bell, deputy agricultural commissioner, not to harvest new crops and limit worker access to the fields until soil sample results are determined. 

She noted that Food and Drug Administration officials would soon be in the area. 

Asst. VCFD Chief Rod Megli said one of the responding fire engines that had to be abandoned at the scene - the tires of the trucks caught fire in the pool of chemicals - was being decontaminated. 

He noted the engine would also soon be moved from partially blocking the roadway in front of the property, still considered a hot zone.

A secondary explosion ripped through the property at about 8:30 a.m. November 18 when a vapor cloud ignited - reportedly set up by a flapping tarp - and set tanks storing chemicals on fire. Firefighters could only monitor the situation and let the fires burn themselves out, as the unknown chemical(s) - in the initial vacuum truck explosion scattered throughout a 400-foot radius - are so volatile that when dry they can be ignited by a touch. 

The boots of first responding firefighters’ ignited, as did the tires on fire engines that rushed to the scene. 

Property downwind of the incident as far as 1.5 mile is considered the defense line, said Tom Dunkelman of the EPA, who noted “There were quite a few chemicals on the property,” that must be determined to ensure they won’t trigger further incidents during clean up. 

Santa Clara Waste Water officials said it does not accept hazardous waste.

Dunkelman added that air quality monitored over the preceding 48-hour period has been good.

Ventura County Sheriff Captain Dave Wareham said businesses in the area where the blast occurred were out of the line of the smoke and fumes that were initially blown northwest. 

VCFD Hazmat Specialist Steve Baker said there are still questions about the chemicals involved in the explosion that could have resulted from “fugitive emissions... “  

Officials said they were unable to answer questions regarding the circumstances or sequence of events that led up to the explosions and fire, now the focus of the DA’s investigation.

Kevin McGowan with the Ventura County Sheriff’s Office of Emergency Services has posted a list of the businesses that were allowed to reopen at

Updates are also posted on the site.

Calls to Ventura County Environmental Health and the EPA asking for information and updates on the incident had not been returned by press deadline.

There has not been a press briefing/news conference since the afternoon of November 18 and no press releases issued other than updates on the VC Emergency website. 

Santa Paula Fire Chief Rick Araiza briefed Councilmember-elect John Procter Saturday morning at the Community Center, where business owners and the community met regarding the explosions and fire that led to evacuations of the Mission Rock Road area.

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