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Toxic metal plants cited for not protecting workers from hazardous materials

Cal/OSHA cited Anaplex Corp. for seven "serious" and two "general" violations of worker safety rules. The company is appealing its fines. Rebecca Plevin/KPCC

The two Paramount metal processing firms accused of endangering their community's health by emitting high levels of a toxic pollutant have been hit with several citations for violating California worker safety rules.

The state Division of Occupational Safety and Health says that, among other things, Aerocraft Heat Treating Co. failed to properly protect its workers against the danger of falling into a 10-foot-deep tank containing 33,000 gallons of hazardous material.

Cal/OSHA says Anaplex Corp.'s violations included failing to provide its workers with appropriate protective clothing or goggles, a way to quickly wash toxins out of their eyes or training on handling hazardous substances.

While they confront the worker safety allegations, Anaplex and Aerocraft are also under orders from the South Coast Air Quality Management District to mitigate their emissions of hexavalant chromium, following the agency's determination that they were responsible for spikes of the carcinogenic pollutant last fall.

Cal/OSHA cited Anaplex for seven "serious" and two "general" violations of worker safety rules in May, resulting in fines of $78,250. The company is appealing the fines, arguing that it didn't violate worker safety rules. 

Anaplex declined to comment on the citations or its appeal, which is scheduled for a pre-hearing conference on Oct. 2.

The agency cited Aerocraft for two "serious" and three "general" violations in June, resulting in fines of $30,135.

The company "is in the process of discussing the citations with [Cal/OSHA] and will continue to work cooperatively with the agency to resolve concerns," Aerocraft General Manager Greg Stonick says in a statement.

Cal/OSHA inspected both facilities in December as a result of confidential complaints.

At Anaplex, Cal/OSHA inspectors found that the company did not ensure that employees at risk of eye injuries, such as burns resulting from contact with hazardous substances, wore chemical splash goggles.

Inspectors allege the company failed to establish and implement all of the required elements of a respiratory protection program for employees working in operations like plating and aluminum processing. They say it failed to implement training of employees in the proper use of respirators or to establish and implement procedures for cleaning and disinfecting respirators, among other related violations.

Cal/OSHA alleges Anaplex failed to provide protective clothing, including chemical-resistant arm protection, to employees exposed to hazardous substances like chromic acid, sulfuric acid and nitric acid in plating and aluminum processing operations.

The agency found that in areas where workers were involved in plating and aluminum processing operations, the company failed to provide emergency eyewash facilities  that an injured person could reach in 10 seconds or less, and that the equipment used for eyewashes didn't function according to regulations.

Finally, the inspectors found Anaplex did not provide all employees, including those working in aluminum processing and plating operations, with effective information and training regarding the hazardous substances in their work areas.

Cal/OSHA says Anaplex corrected all of these violations during the inspection.

If an inspector points out a workplace hazard and an employer corrects it during the inspection, the company can receive an abatement credit for that violation, reducing the cost of their fines, according to Cal/OSHA spokesman Luke Brown.

Aerocraft, the agency alleges, exposed workers to the risk of falling into a 10-foot tank containing 33,000 gallons of hazardous material. It says the company should have had a substantial railing at least three feet tall or a cover for the tank.

In response, Aerocraft's Stonick  says the company did have appropriate safety measures in place around its oil quench tanks, but would remove one side of the tank during the quenching process when parts were placed by forklift into the oil bath.

"Aerocraft has reviewed its processes and has implemented changes to its oil quenching procedures in order to alleviate the concern raised by Cal/OSHA," Stonick says.

Cal/OSHA also alleges that Aerocraft didn't administer a continuing, effective hearing conservation program for employees exposed to unsafe noise levels.

Stonick says Aerocraft has had a hearing conservation program for certain operations. He explains that earlier this year, additional buildings were enclosed, resulting in the need for an expanded hearing conservation program.

"An expanded program has been implemented and will be maintained in the future," he says.

Magdalena Guillen, a member of the Paramount Community Coalition Against Toxins, says the two companies' worker safety violations, coming on top of the AQMD's orders regarding hexavalant chromium, belie the metal processors' assertions that they're committed to protecting the health and safety of their workers and the local residents.

"It just shows that their carelessness is still going on at every level," she says.