The Glass fire of 2020 charred hundreds of square miles of California’s beautiful Napa Valley, leaving the landscape scorched and charred — and potentially exposing workers charged with cleaning up the mess to dangerous toxic chemicals.
A group of waste collection and landfill workers is now seeking hundreds of millions of dollars in compensation for being exposed to the potentially atmospheric contaminants — an issue that the former mayor of St. Helena, in Napa, claims political officials like Gov. Gavin Newsom and Rep Nancy Pelosi should have known about.
Jose Garibay Jr., one of the complainants and a former supervisor at the landfill, said that none of the workers had prior experience dealing with environmental disasters of that magnitude — yet they were sent in just days afterwards to clean up the mess.
But what they didn’t know was that harmful toxins were escaping from the landfill — and Garibay was ultimately fired for raising the alarm about health risks and other safety issues at the site.
The complainants, who are seeking $300 million from the landfill and Upper Valley Disposal Services, have filed a complaint with California’s Division of Occupational Safety and Health — a move that has reportedly been met by occupation safety and health administration silence.
Garibay said he and his team were wearing nothing more than N95 masks, far from the specialized gear they needed to protect them from potential contamination. He has since then been suffering recurring illnesses related to the exposure.
Geoff Ellsworth, the former mayor of St. Helena — who has warned for years of the potential pollution from the landfill, located nearby Pelosi’s winery — said that he has been largely ignored in his attempts to gain traction in the investigation.
After reaching out to various government officials both state and local, both he and the complainants are disappointed in the lack of response.
“Nobody wants to talk about it,” Ellsworth said.
The landfill’s former owners told local media that the fire had not significantly damaged the facility — though the inspection report from the San Francisco Bay Regional Water Quality Control Board said otherwise.
Among the victims of the poor handling of the incident were two drivers, Gary and Ricky Hernandez, who both reported being pressured to work during an evacuation order, as well as when they were COVID-19 positive. The unrelated men had Pelosi’s residence and the French Laundry on their usual routes.
“Workers were sent by the company into evacuation and fire zones with no protective equipment,” Gary said.
Ellsworth, the complainants, and documentarian Brian Lilla are now calling on governmental officials to investigate how it was handled, as well as ordering testing for potentially toxic materials in the urine near the landfill. The landfill was recently fined for contaminating a nearby creek.
It remains to be seen what sort of response the Californian government will issue to the various allegations leveled by the group. In the meantime, the men and women on the frontlines of the scandal are still dealing with the fallout of their exposure.