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Air district takes action against smelly Paramount metal plant

Photo by Ray Smith/Ray_from_LA via Flickr Creative Commons

The South Coast Air Quality Management District is cracking down on a Paramount metal manufacturing company that has received 17 violation notices since December for allegedly emitting odors.

The district on Tuesday filed a petition for an administrative order that would require Carlton Forge Works to reduce the odors. The agency's independent Hearing Board will hold a hearing regarding the petition on July 13.

District inspectors have traced the odors to the South L.A. facility's grinding room and an area near two gates.

Carlton Forge general manager Luis Liu says the AQMD's allegation is "without merit."

The company is "disappointed that SCAQMD has chosen to pursue the Petition as CFW has acted in good faith, cooperated with SCAQMD, and taken measures to minimize potential odors," he says in a statement.

Jo Arias, who lives across the street from the facility, welcomes the action. She attended a town hall meeting on Tuesday night hosted by the air district.

"They're like a burning, metallic, rubber odor," she says. "They burn your eyes, your mouth, your throat."

Arias says she smells the odor every day or every other day and gets frequent nosebleeds and headaches.

Jo Kay Ghosh, the AQMD's health effects officer, acknowledges that odors can cause immediate health problems.

"When the odor goes away, the health effects usually go away as well," she says. "So the health effects tend to be short-lived or as long-lived as the odors are."

Ghosh says in some cases, odors can come along with toxic emissions but "at this point, we have not associated the odor with any specific toxics of concern."

The air district says Carlton Forge has attempted to reduce the odors by stopping outdoor grinding, sealing its grinding building and installing high-efficiency filters on the grinding building exhaust. But since the odors have persisted, the district is asking the Hearing Board to require the facility to take additional steps, including developing a comprehensive odor plan.

The agency reports it has received more than 190 odor complaints regarding odors allegedly emanating from Carlton Forge. Some of those complaints have come from people at Lincoln Elementary School, located a few blocks from the facility.

In response to complaints about metallic odors in Paramount, the district began conducting ambient monitoring of toxic metal emissions in 2013. The monitoring showed elevated levels of nickel and hexavalent chromium, a carcinogen.

In 2014 and 2015, AQMD worked with Carlton Forge to reduce metal particulate emissions from its grinding operation. The company implemented a number of voluntary measures that substantially reduced nickel levels in the neighborhood.

Those measures did not decrease hexavalent chromium levels in the community, so AQMD also deployed several air monitors. The agency identified two Paramount metal processors that it said were contributing to those levels; they agreed to plans to lower their emissions of hexavalent chromium, also known as chromium 6. 

AQMD is also investigating elevated chromium 6 levels in southern Paramount, near the facilities of Mattco Forge, Press Forge and Weber Metals. The agency is conducting sampling and source testing at the facilities to determine if they're contributing to the heightened emissions.

Meanwhile, the agency says the facilities are voluntarily implementing interim measures to control metal grinding emissions and are expediting installation of new pollution controls.

This story has been updated to include Carlton Forge's statement.