The Local Wasteland

Oxnard’s beachfront industry and its toxic history

The Local Wasteland

“When you go out and look at property, and nothing grows on it, that tells you it’s not very good.” says City Councilman Bryan MacDonald. “That tells you the soil is no good, it’s either contaminated or just robbed of nutrients.That should be the first sign that the environment has been damaged.”


The previous statements were made about a local plot of land. According to the EPA, from 1965 to 2004, the Halaco Engineering Company operated a smelter on an 11 acre property at the north end of Ormond Beach.


Almost a decade ago, in 2007, the site was added to the National Priority List, which gave it access to federal funding for long term cleanup operations. In 2010, structures on the site were demolished, after heavy metals and low level radiation was detected within them. The structures were built before it was discovered that the insulator known as asbestos was a health hazard, thus indicating the use of the substance.


Multiple government reports claim that activities such as dirt bike riding would create a significant threat by creating dust. The contamination in the ground is the largest problem faced by officials, who have estimated that over 2.1 million cubic feet of waste remain at the site. Much of this waste is in a large grey pile of slag which remains as a byproduct from the years of smelting. It looms 40 feet tall, across the Oxnard Industrial Drain.


MacDonald says the “pile is bigger than the original White House […] it would fit twice inside that pile.” Due to the sheer amount of material that will need to be moved, and the convenience of pre-existing railroad lines, it is likely that the slag will be removed via train. It will be taken about two miles to the north where it can be treated.


The EPA reports, the list of contaminants include many heavy metals, some of which are radioactive or otherwise negatively impactful. Wayne Praskins, the EPA site manager, said, “Probably the biggest health impact from the site was from air emissions during the years that Halaco operated.”  Within a vicinity of one mile, there are multiple facilities for children and the elderly who may be more susceptible to harm from the site’s contaminants, including public parks, beaches, and schools.


The plant was also the site of multiple fires, some of which were caused by improperly stored magnesium which ignited when it made contact with rainwater. This problem was made worse because the company failed to notify officials. If not for concerned neighbors around the facility, who reported the fire, it may have gone unnoticed by officials.


After the facility faced shut down, a fence was erected around the premises. MacDonald described the site as an “attractive nuisance” because of the homeless presence on and near the site, as well as the homicide which occurred nearby earlier this year.


On the topic of the responsible party’s remedial actions, Praskins said, “Halaco was forced to make changes to their operations in response to a lawsuit in the early 2000s and ultimately declared bankruptcy. The EPA also received several hundred thousand dollars from the bankruptcy settlement that will be used to help clean up the site.” The lawsuit was filed due to concerns in the community over the impact of pollution created by the company.  Some of the company’s former leaders have started a similar operation in Tennessee called MagPro, according to a 2007 article in the Ventura County Star by Scott Hadly.


While action on the massive amounts of contaminated dirt may take a while, action about more immediate dangers on the site has been taken. In 2007 the EPA took action to prevent waste from leaving the site and has taken a few remedial steps in the years since.


In the years since, the site has been secured and the property owners have proposed building a multi-story retirement home atop the contaminated slag heap. According to MacDonald, this idea was swiftly shot down. He rhetorically asked, “Who wants their grandmother to live on top of waste piles?”


The City of Oxnard is thought to be moving towards the restoration of the land to a more natural state. Further action, however, will require approval from the Government of California, as well as many involved regulatory agencies.
“We can actually take the material out, bleach it, clean it, and use it for cement of all things.” said MacDonald, referring to the slag heap. Once the cleanup has begun, it may take about seven years to completely remove the waste. Depending on what plans are enacted, costs may run anywhere between tens of millions to half a billion dollars.