Residents of northeast Irvine, long tired of the smells and alleged toxins from the nearby All American Asphalt plant, applaud a new notice of violation issued to the company, saying the first official sanction in addition to a year gives hope that regulators are taking their complaints more seriously.
The plant is largely hidden in the foothills of Loma Ridge, but is less than a mile from the nearest homes. Since 2019, more than 1,200 complaints about asphalt and burnt rubber odors have been filed with the South Coast Air Quality Management District. During this period, the district issued six notices of violation to the company for odor and one related to operating machinery without a permit. The company has also been fined $53,500 so far for the violations.
But since an October 2020 breach, more than 14 months had passed until the notice was issued on Friday, January 14. In announcing the latest violation, the district said the company had taken steps to address odors, “resulting in a significant decrease in complaints over the past year.”
Kim Konte, who lives less than three kilometers from the factory, countered that the problems never went away. Residents, mostly from the Orchard Hills and Northwood neighborhoods, are simply frustrated with filing complaints over what she described as poor enforcement.
“The (district’s) complaint process is very flawed,” said Konte, who helped found the group Non Toxic Neighborhoods.
Specifically, inspectors can take hours to respond to complaints, which gives odors time to disperse, she said. Additionally, she said, the neighborhood does not always respond to messages left by residents.
Besides the Air Quality Management District, Konte and other concerned neighbors reached out to Sen. Dave Min, D-Irvine. Min, in turn, contacted the California Air Resources Board, which Konte said helped affected residents understand the data and the process. She also thinks the council’s involvement prompts the district to take more aggressive action.
“We are definitely seeing a change in the right direction from the (district),” Konte said. The Air Resources Board “confirmed meeting with the (district). We believe the increased pressure from (the council) has led to (the district) being more responsive. Last week was an indication that they were finally going to do their job.
The controller responds
Nahal Mogharabi, spokesperson for the Air Quality Management District, dismissed Konte’s claim that the Air Resources Board had anything to do with the latest notice of violation and said it was the result of “our standard procedures”.
“(The district) is an independent agency,” Mogharabi said. “No other government agency has been involved in our complaints response program, and no agency has caused any changes to the way we respond to complaints. This community has been and remains one of our top priorities.
She said the time it takes for inspectors to respond to complaints can range from minutes to the next day, depending on the number of inspectors available and the number of complaints. District inspectors in 2021 responded to more than 15,000 complaints across the district’s four counties, she said.
She also said inspectors respond to every complaint “but often our calls and messages are not returned.”
The district reported that measured emissions in the area are within acceptable limits.
Residents have complained of nosebleeds, headaches and sore throats, Konte said. She wants All American Asphalt to be classified under the federal clean air law as a Title V company. The designation is triggered by the amount and types of emissions, and could allow for regulation and stricter regulatory scrutiny. All of America’s asphalt should have been listed as a Title V operation since 2018, she said.
Mogharabi responded that the facility had complied with a February 2021 request to submit a Title V permit application, which is being processed by the district.
All American Asphalt, which declined to comment, built its Irvine plant in 1993 and is licensed to produce up to 121,000 tons of asphalt per month for local construction projects. Initially, there were no houses near the factory, but that changed as Irvine expanded.