Health

Judge rejects pollution cleanup order against Paramount firm

Anaplex Corp.
Anaplex Corp.
Rebecca Plevin/KPCC

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A judge has rejected a request from Los Angeles County and regional air regulators for an order directing a Paramount metal processing firm to immediately reduce its emissions of hexavalent chromium, a carcinogenic pollutant.

Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge  Joanne O'Donnell denied the request from the county and the South Coast Air Quality Management District for a temporary restraining order against Anaplex Corp. O'Donnell ruled that the AQMD's independent hearing board has primary jurisdiction in this case, the air district said. 

The ruling "provides much needed clarity to the process" of protecting the health of the community and of the company's employees, said Anaplex spokesman Adan Ortega.

Company President Carmen Campbell said in a statement that "while we are disappointed that SCAQMD ... feels they need to punish our 70 employees and their families, we hope SCAQMD reconsiders the purpose of its regulations and works with Anaplex on focusing its resources on issues that are important to the entire community--looking at all possible sources of emissions that endanger our families and schoolchildren."

AQMD Executive Officer Wayne Nastri said "we are disappointed" by the court's ruling.  

Los Angeles County Supervisor Janice Hahn, who had directed county counsel to join with AQMD in seeking the temporary restraining order, called O'Donnell's ruling "a disappointment to me and all of the residents of Paramount who continue to breathe poisonous air." Hahn vowed to "remain aggressive in the fight on behalf of Paramount residents and continue to use every county resource available to pressure Anaplex to stop emissions."

Anaplex is one of two Paramount firms the AQMD has blamed for emitting unsafe levels of hexavalent chromium, also known as chromium 6, in the South L.A. city.

On Tuesday, Anaplex signaled its intention to comply with an AQMD plan to cut its emissions. The air district’s hearing board must approve the plan; its next meeting is scheduled for Jan. 5.

The AQMD and the county had sought the temporary restraining order because they were "not willing to wait [until Jan. 5] to protect public health and the breathers in Paramount," said Atwood.

The lawsuit asked Judge O'Donnell to require Anaplex to comply with the same terms of an arrangement the AQMD's hearing board reached last week with Aerocraft Heat Treating Co., the other firm accused of emitting too much chromium 6.

Aerocraft agreed to the order, which says that if its chromium 6 emissions, averaged over a week, exceed a certain threshold, then it must shut down any equipment that could emit the carcinogen. The order, which took effect immediately, also requires Aerocraft to take 22 actions to reduce its chromium 6 emissions.

Anaplex had initially declined to accept a similar abatement order before reversing itself this week. In light of its new position, along with the fact that Anaplex has already implemented a number of emission-reduction measures, company spokesman Ortega called the joint county-AQMD suit a "curious action."

Besides seeking the hearing board's administrative order on Jan. 5, the AQMD "will consider all other enforcement options available to us with our partner agencies," said Nastri. "We also will remain vigilant as to Anaplex’s actions and its emissions."

Meanwhile, Anaplex has filed a request under California's Public Records Act for AQMD's monitoring data that was cited in the air district's complaint against the facility. 

"This data is necessary in order to formulate a response that is meaningful to any emissions reduction plan," said Ortega.

The AQMD started monitoring the air in Paramount in 2013, after community members complained about metallic odors. Residents believed the source of the odors was Carleton Forge Works.

Since then, Carleton Forge voluntarily implemented new measures to reduce emissions and odors. The district said the changes reduced the levels of nickel in the air.

But monitoring shows that chromium 6 levels have been increasing over the past year. 

The AQMD deployed eight additional monitors in Paramount in mid-October; they first registered extremely high chromium 6 emissions - 350 times typical background levels, according to the air district - on Oct. 27.