Animal rendering plant producing foul odors in Cudahy

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By Alfredo Santana

Contributing Writer

CUDAHY — Foul smells drifting from a Vernon rendering plant that reached residents of this city have prompted complaints to the South Coast Air Quality Management District, which has served a violation notice on Baker Commodities Inc. for overstepping a rule limiting exposure of animal corpses.

Located at 4020 Bandini Ave., the rendering facility received the notice on Jan. 20 for failure to process and recycle animal remains in four or less hours, impacting the public.

On Jan. 11 after 10 p.m., Cudahy residents said they picked up the stench of animal carcasses carried by southbound winds from the site, something that hadn’t happened for years..

Eight people in different households called the air monitoring agency, triggering an after-hour deployment of an inspector who tried to identify the odor’s source, said Victor Yip, assistant deputy executive officer of compliance and enforcement with the SCAQMD in a virtual meeting.

Yip said that during the conversations, some residents said the odors had vanished, and the threshold of six complaints within an occurrence was not met at the time.

When the inspector responded to the Jan. 11 odor surge, he only picked up a faint smell, Yip said.

However, the complaints logged at night were added to a previous odor investigation on Jan. 7 that found a “large, uncovered pile of raw animal materials” outside the plant’s backup cooker, the agency said in a statement.

The agency said that portions of the pile were discovered four hours later still unprocessed, in violation of Rule 415, regarding “Odors from Rendering Facilities.”

“We found out that Baker Commodities was not able to meet that four-hour limit on that [Jan. 7] date,” Yip said.

In addition, the AQMD said that investigators discovered that the facility’s main cooker had been damaged for a few days, and it resumed operations earlier that day.

“South Coast AQMD Rule 415 requires facilities that conduct rendering of animals and animal parts to reduce odors from their operations, which includes cooking or properly storing raw materials within four hours of receipt,” the statement said.

The same rule requests rendering plants to be equipped with total enclosure chambers “and other control strategies” to minimize odors affecting neighboring communities.

Cudahy Mayor Elizabeth Alcantar said she first noticed spoiled meat smells on Jan. 11, when she was driving home. Alcantar said she stopped her vehicle on the street, and tried to trace where the odors drifted from.

“Typically, we smell it in the mornings,” Alcantar said. “We get the smell, the odors, but recently we smelled it at night. It is very harsh.”

She said that wind patterns constantly change, and by the time residents pick up the stench, it becomes hard to pinpoint.

Alcantar said the AQMD Rule 415 does not consider that six independent residents cannot spare two to six hours with an investigator because the smells fly away as winds change directions. Callers have to go to work and get their children ready for morning school.

“To spare two hours, and stay there, obviously it’s not feasible for a resident,” Alcantar said.

Alcantar, who has lived in the area more than 20 years, said she remembers the rancid smells as a teenager. The annoying smells are annoying to residents, hinder the region’s quality of life and impact thousands of local residents, many of whom do not know how to report the incidents, Alcantar said.

“The nightly odor was probably the worst in many years,” she said.

The AQMD has assigned one full-time inspector to Southeast Los Angeles cities who drives an agency car, lives close to the coverage area and can reach the addresses of complainants within an hour of a surge, Yip said.

However, three or more complaints logged after sunset on the same issue triggers an inspector’s dispatch the same day, and two or less generate an inspection the following day.

“In order to enforce the public nuisance rule, we would need to confirm the odor with at least six people,” Yip said. “It becomes more of a collaborative relationship between us and the community.”

The carcass stench is a recurrent issue in an area with five rendering facilities. The AQMD issued violation notices to Baker Commodities for similar incidents last June and September. The agency said it will conduct odor surveillance “near all rendering plants,” and respond to public complaints.

From Jan. 1, 2017 to Aug. 31, 2021, the AQMD issued 11 notices of violation to Baker Commodities, with five citing the failure to process raw materials within the four-hour timeframe, breaking Rule 415.

Notices of violation can carry financial penalties, or make the offender agree to phase in voluntary measures to reduce pollutants or prevent additional breaches.

In case a settlement is not reached, the agency can file a lawsuit seeking to correct the infractions.

AQMD handles incidents one at the time, and penalties vary from each case, Yip said.

“If a company continues to violate, it can be deferred to the hearing board for an order of abatement, which imposes additional stricter conditions,” Yip said.

Rendering plants process dead animals into products for agricultural, human and industrial use. Remains and waste from slaughterhouses are the primary contributors to these facilities, but laboratories, veterinary clinics and animal shelters hire their services for euthanized animals, including horses, dogs and cats.

The website indicates that feed manufacturers purchase edible rendering products as sources of protein, calcium and phosphorous, and that animals that die of cancer, organ failure or encephalitis may end up in the cooking soups.

Supermarkets also ship wasted or rejected meats and restaurants hire rendering plants to dispose of cooking oil, grease and bones or raw materials. Spinal cords from cows are banned in rendering processing due to fears of causing mad-cow disease.

There are five rendering companies in Vernon. They are Coast Packing Co., Darling Ingredients LLC., Legacy By-Products LLC., Smithfield Packaged Meats Corp., known as Farmer John, and Baker Commodities.

At press time, Baker Commodities CEO James Andreoli II had not returned a phone call and an email requesting comment on the matter.

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