Southeast area leaders send letter to AQMD over odors

By Alfredo Santana

Contributing Writer

LOS ANGELES — A group of 37 Southeast Los Angeles representatives have signed a letter addressed to the South Coast Air Quality Management District requesting accountability from rendering plants for releasing the stench of carcasses and to ease the process to investigate complaints.

Addressed to Board Chair Ben Benoit and to Vice Chair Vanessa Delgado on Jan. 25, the letter asks the Air Quality Management District to “strengthen and clarify” Rule 415, a regulation with steps that trigger investigations based on residents’ complaints about odors.

California Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon, D-Lakewood, and Assemblywoman Cristina Garcia, D-Downey, endorsed the petition, along with 34 City Council representatives from Huntington Park, Lynwood, Maywood, South Gate, Bell, Bell Gardens, city of Commerce and Cudahy.

Los Angeles Unified School District board member Jackie Goldberg and representatives for the Coalition for Clean Air, Communities for a Better Environment and East Yard Communities for Environmental Justice also signed the letter.

“These harsh and harmful odors have become a daily occurrence in our community, and there are no consequences for the rendering plants responsible,” said Bell City Councilman Ali Saleh on Twitter. “This is an environmental injustice to us all, and we urge the AQMD to end this and not further disenfranchise our communities.”

The letter followed the report of putrid smells emanating from a rendering plant in Vernon that reached Cudahy overnight on Jan. 11, as southbound winds carried the stench into streets and homes.

Eight residents called the AQMD to report nauseating odors after 10 p.m., activating an investigation to identify the odor’s source.

But when the investigator drove to corroborate the occurrence with at least six callers, several said the odor had cleared, calling off a potential violation notice to the responsible party.

According to Victor Yip, assistant deputy executive officer of compliance and enforcement with the AQMD, the investigator picked up a faint smell upon arrival.

Nonetheless, the logged calls reinforced a previous investigation opened on Jan. 7 at Baker Commodities Inc., which found the rendering company had a pile of raw material exposed for more than four hours, impacting the public.

Thus, AQMD issued a notice of violation to Rule 415 on Jan. 20 for failure to comply with the processing of carcasses within four hours from entering the facility.

“Rule 415, adopted Nov. 3, 2017, describes requirements for odor mitigation plans, signage and tracking of odor complaints, and record-keeping at rendering plants. However, the rule does not specify consequences for rendering plants that do not meet these requirements,” the letter read.

The rule in question requires that three different complaints related to the same odor must be filed within an hour so an investigator can visit the community to trace the nuisance. However, a minimum of six complainants must confirm the ongoing smell with the investigator for AQMD to issue a violation notice.

Yip referred to the California Health and Safety Code as the main authority for the six-household odor rule.

Before the letter was mailed, Cudahy Mayor Elizabeth Alcantar criticized Rule 415 for being out of touch by asking residents to be available for two to six hours with an investigator following any air quality complaint, particularly on late evenings.

“To spare two hours and stay there, obviously it’s not feasible for a resident,” said Alcantar, who also co-signed the letter.

For its part, Baker Commodities issued a statement defending its activities and denied it had received a direct odor complaint.

Jimmy Andreoli II, assistant vice president of Baker Commodities Inc., said it is important to learn about these issues so they can be addressed, and confirmed the completion of new processing facilities are being conducted to meet AQMD mandates.

Andreoli said the construction project at the 4020 Bandini Ave. plant will improve processing and odor management consistent with the requirements of Rule 415.

“These improvements to our facility will further ensure that odors are managed consistently with best industry practices,” he said in a staement. “We have been working closely with the South Coast Air Quality Management District to expeditiously complete the improvements and appreciate their partnership and assistance in moving this project forward as quickly as possible.”

Baker Commodities claimed that odors resulting from processing rendering materials are not hazardous, and on the contrary, “the rendering processing is actually making the air we breathe cleaner by sequestering carbon and other greenhouses gases.”

The company claimed its operations in the United States are carbon negative “thereby improving the air we breathe each day.”

Founded in 1937, Baker Commodities indicated it is proud to be recycling raw materials “way before it was ‘cool’ to be green.”

“Organics diversion from landfills is essential to ensuring our environment is safe and protected, and Baker has been diverting organics from landfills for many years,” the statement added.

Although the AQMD may impose financial penalties on air polluters, offenders can agree to upgrade facilities to contain more efficiently carcasses odors.

Data from the agency indicates Baker Commodities should finish installation of an enclosure at his main plant by March 9 to process raw materials from its receiving area.

In addition, the company is working on a second upgrade for its backup plant with an April 22 deadline.

South Gate Mayor Al Rios said he co-sponsored the letter due to annoying odors drifting toward residential parts of the city, coupled with complaints residents voiced throughout the years for picking up pungent odors.

“We get smells in different areas in the community, including my area near a park,” Rios said. “It’s worrisome. You don’t have to be outside, even inside you get it. So I’ve had it.”

Rios indicated he worries that the health of area residents with high asthma levels caused by industrial and vehicle emissions would worsen if the rendering plants are not held accountable for air pollution.

“I’m glad we are moving forward with the issue and complaints we’ve had,” Rios said.

Among the letter co-sponsors were Maywood City Council members Eddie de la Riva, Heber Marquez, Jessica Torres and Ricardo Lara; Huntington Park City Council members Karina Macias, Eddie Martinez, Marilyn Sanabria and Manuel Avila, and Lynwood City Council members Jorge Casanova, Rita Soto, Marisela Santana and Jose Luis Solache.