Neighbors’ frustration erupted occasionally during a five-hour meeting on Wednesday evening, March 3rd, over smelly and potentially toxic fumes from an asphalt factory in northeast Irvine.
Since 2019, more than 700 complaints have been filed with the South Coast Air Quality Management District, which reported six violations to All American Asphalt and fined the company $ 53,500.
Although some steps have been taken to improve air quality and the odor complaints have subsided, the problem persists with no clear solution.
“We have got to the point where we ask ourselves, is it time to move?” said resident Kim Konte, who helped found the Non Toxic Neighborhoods group.
The district hosted the online meeting on Wednesday to update the community of preliminary air test results and respond to questions from residents, who mostly live in the Orchard Hills and Northwood neighborhoods. The closest homes are less than a mile from the asphalt factory, which is largely invisible in the foothills of Loma Ridge.
Four separate series of tests have been conducted since November – by the district, the city and two research teams from UC Irvine. The intermittent odors are undisputed, but the health risk from volatile organic compounds in the air remains uncertain.
“Our general assessment is that the levels we see are all within typical levels,” said Jo Kay Ghosh, the district health officer, after detailed technical presentations of each group that conducted the tests.
Other district officials told residents that more testing was needed to come to a more conclusive decision.
“We are continuing to conduct tests and publish them online,” said Jason Low, the district’s assistant vice chief executive with responsibility for air quality monitoring. “We will have an update every couple of weeks. We’ll have a next meeting when we have more information. “
While the district reassured residents that it is dedicated to identifying health risks and removing odors, some residents have expressed skepticism about the district’s ability to carry out this task and preliminary reports that the air is no more toxic than others nearby areas.
“You’re a toothless agency punishing a company that pollutes our children,” said Jim Konte, who suggested the fines weren’t enough to force All American Asphalt to change its business.
Residents said they were not happy with the changes All American has made to date or any other changes planned.
The factory was built in 1993 and is currently allowed to produce up to 121,000 tons of asphalt per month for local construction projects. Initially there weren’t any houses near the factory, but that has changed as Irvine has grown.
In early September 2019, complaints began to pour in about smells from asphalt and burnt rubber. The district said it worked with All American on several initiatives including repairing equipment, rerouting trucks carrying asphalt away from homes, and requiring trucks to use tarpaulin.
“After these changes, the number of public complaints decreased until the complaints increased significantly in September 2020,” the district’s All American Asphalt website said. “That same month, however, the facility applied to South Coast AQMD for air quality approval to install new odor control equipment as a proposed long-term solution to the problem.”
The company is currently evaluating the effectiveness of this new equipment as part of the permit application process. It is unclear when the equipment could be operational.
As of September 2019, the district has given the company five notices of odor violations and one notice of operating machinery without a permit. The $ 53,500 fine was directed at all six violations.
The role of the city
In the final hour of Wednesday’s meeting, attention turned to the city of Irvine, which granted land use permits for the asphalt factory.
“It sounds like the city is taking a back seat and letting you take the heat away,” resident Jillian Dale told district officials. “When are we going to see action from the city?”
Alderman Larry Agran said the day is drawing near.
“This is a real problem for the city,” said Agran, one of three council members who intervened on Wednesday. “The city needs to call a special meeting … and focus on the city’s responsibility in this matter.”