Northeast Irvine residents, long fed up with odors and suspected toxins from the nearby All American Asphalt plant, are applauding a new notice of violation issued to the company, saying the first official sanction in more than a year offers hope that regulators are taking their complaints more seriously.
The factory is largely hidden from view in the Loma Ridge foothills, but sits within a mile of 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. In that time, the district has issued six notices of violation to the company for odor and one related to operating machinery without a permit. The company also has been fined $53,500 so far for the violations.
But since an October 2020 violation, more than 14 months had passed until the notice issued Friday, Jan. 14. In announcing the latest violation, the district said the company has taken steps to address the odors, “resulting in a significant decrease in complaints over the last year.”
Kim Konte, who lives within two miles of the plant, countered that the problems never went away. Residents, mostly from the Orchard Hills and Northwood neighborhoods, have simply become frustrated with filing complaints because of what she described as lackluster 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, allowing time for the odors to disperse, she said. Additionally, she said, the district doesn’t always respond to messages left by residents.
Beside the Air Quality Management District, Konte and other concerned neighbors have reached out to Sen. Dave Min, D-Irvine. Min, in turn, contacted the California Air Resources Board, which Konte says has helped concerned residents to understand the data and the process. She also believes the board’s involvement is prompting the district to take more aggressive action.
“We’re definitely seeing a shift in the right direction from the (district),” Konte said. The Air Resources Board “confirmed that they have been meeting with the (district). We think the increased pressure from (the board) has led (the district) to being more responsive. Last week was an indication they’re finally going to be doing their job.”
Nahal Mogharabi, spokesperson for the Air Quality Management District, rejected Konte’s claim that the Air Resources Board has 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 complaint response program, nor has any agency caused any changes in the way we respond to complaints. This community has been and remains one of our top priorities.”
He said the length of time it takes for inspectors to respond to complaints can range from a few minutes to the next day, depending on the number of available inspectors and number of complaints. District inspectors in 2021 responded to more than 15,000 complaints throughout the district’s four-county jurisdiction, he said.
He also said the inspectors respond to every complaint “but many times our calls and messages go unreturned.”
The district has reported that emissions measured in the area are within acceptable limits.
Residents have complained of nose bleeds, headaches and sore throats, Konte said. She wants All American Asphalt to be classified under the federal Clean Air Act as a Title V business. The designation is triggered by the amount and types of emissions, and could allow for stricter regulation and regulatory scrutiny. All American Asphalt should have been listed as a Title V operation since 2018, she said.
Mogharabi responded that the facility has 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 comment, built its Irvine factory in 1993 and is permitted to produce up to 121,000 tons of asphalt monthly for local construction projects. Initially, there were no homes near the factory, but that’s changed as Irvine has grown.
Source: Orange County Register