By Alfredo Santana
EAST LOS ANGELES — Before going to school, Erin Hernandez wakes up early morning with fruity smells drifting into his house in the unincorporated neighborhood of City Terrace.
Accompanied by his father Gonzalo, Erin, said he believes the fruity smell rises from a manufacturing plant a few streets to the east from his house on Attridge Avenue, just three blocks north of the San Bernardino (10) Freeway.
“It’s like something softer in the air,” said Erin, 17. “It’s common in the mornings between 6 and 8 a.m.”
Before this interview, neither Gonzalo or his son knew about the settlement the South Coast Air Quality Management District reached in March with American Fruits and Flavors, calling for the manufacturer of juice flavors for energy drinks to distribute air purifiers to households within half a mile of its facility on Knowles Avenue.
The agreement is in response to five notices of violation, the regional environmental agency issued against American Fruits and Flavors for causing a public nuisance by releasing odors from November 2021 through January 2022, and for failure to get permits for its processing equipment.
The South Coast AQMD also imposed a $46,000 fine against the company owned by drinks giant Monster Beverage Corporation, and said the juice flavoring facility agreed to spend $100,000 on portable residential air purifiers for affected residents, including two replacement filters.
“It is important that companies remain in compliance with our rules in order to protect their neighbors from odors that can impact their daily lives,” said Wayne Nastri, South Coast AQMD executive officer. “We are pleased that the company will invest in the local community by providing air purifiers to residents most impacted.”
According to the South Coast AQMD, four of the five infractions are linked to odors that caused a public nuisance, and go against its Rule 402 and the California Health & Safety Code section 41700.
The fifth violation was lodged on the facility “for processing solvents containing volatile organic compounds, without properly permitting its equipment.”
After the manufacturing plant made voluntary operational changes to mitigate odors, no more violation notices have been issued, said the air quality agency in a press release.
Among the issues outlined in the settlement, representatives from American Fruit and Flavors agreed to reach out to impacted residents within a half-mile radius from the site and build a website for local households to pick one device and two replacement filters for free.
The accord requires the offender to provide each qualifying home one air filtration unit until funds are depleted.
A female employee at the office of the East Los Angeles facility said nobody was authorized to speak about the case there, or on the agreements described in the settlement.
Gonzalo, who has lived more than 30 years in City Terrace, said the flavoring smells travel to his household occasionally, but he has not been seriously bothered by it.
However, Gonzalo recalled his mother died of lung cancer in 1989, despite the fact she never smoked or worked in settings where industrial emissions were of big concern.
Gonzalo’s mother lived most of her life in the same home he now owns, he said.
On the agreement calling for company staff to reach out, Gonzalo said nobody has visited or phoned him, nor sent a letter with information about the air purifiers and when or where they would be available for pickup.
Gonzalo said he would tell management at American Fruit and Flavors to honor their pledge and “do what you said you’ve got to do,” to improve the air quality of his neighborhood.
American Fruits and Flavors posted on its website the corporation was formed in 2016 following its acquisition by Monster Energy Company. The company operates additional juice and flavors plants in Pacoima, Yakima, Washington, and Dallas, Texas.
The actions against American Fruit and Flavors came after the air quality agency ramped up enforcement of its own rules following the closure of animal rendering plant Baker Commodities in Vernon last year for failure to process remains in enclosed units and releasing foul odors.