An ongoing investigation by the South Coast Air Quality Management District (SCAQMD) is seeking to identify the source, and content, of emissions from an Irvine asphalt plant that has been in operation since 1993.
All American Asphalt (AAA) is located in north Irvine, approximately a mile from residential communities and schools. According to a petition from Irvine residents, a “nauseating smell” and “visible irritants” have led to concern over whether AAA’s asphalt production emissions may be harmful to the local population.
AAA has amassed hundreds of formal complaints from residents who live in the surrounding area. According to SCAQMD Senior Enforcement Manager Victor Yip, the agency has received a total of 834 complaints from residents regarding emissions from All American Asphalt since Feb. 20 of last year. Over 700 of these complaints were received beginning September 2019, according to the SCAQMD webpage.
“Last year, in September 2019, we started receiving an increase in complaints from the community regarding odors from the All American Asphalt plant,” Yip said at a virtual community meeting on Dec. 9 to address the status of the investigation. “We worked to respond to all complaints and we initiated an investigation into the facility.”
Since launching the investigation, the SCAQMD, which has primary jurisdiction over the regulation and enforcement of AAA’s emissions, has investigated on-site operations at the facility as well as directed community monitoring initiatives.
“Through our enforcement efforts, we conducted over 75 odor surveillances in the community, [and] over 30 on-site visits including full compliance inspections of the facility in October 2019 and October 2020,” Yip said.
“As a result of our efforts, we issued All American Asphalt five notices of violations for public nuisance and one violation for rule and permit-related issues observed during our inspection,” Yip said. “In response to our enforcement efforts, All American Asphalt has taken some steps to try to mitigate the potential for odors from their facility.”
After receiving these notices of violations, AAA consulted an environmental specialist, repaired equipment within the facility and reevaluated the tarping and rerouting of its vehicles, according to SCAQMD’s Legal Department Assistant Chief Deputy Counsel Nicholas Sanchez.
“We believe that had a significant reduction in odors reaching the community,” Sanchez said at the community meeting. “We believe that was reflected in the next notice of violation not being issued until May 2020, and then most recently another one in October 2020.”
However, the City of Irvine continues to urge the SCAQMD to take further action to address ongoing public complaints. A letter from the Irvine City Council to the SCAQMD Board of Directors on Nov. 17 calls AAA a “growing public nuisance and a source of potentially harmful emissions in the community.”
“Although [SCAQMD] has issued a number of notices of violation in the last year related to odor issues and unpermitted operations, little has been done to resolve the underlying problem as community concern has grown,” the letter said.
It went on to request that community air monitoring facilities be established in Irvine by the SCAQMD in order to assess potential health hazards.
In response, the SCAQMD issued a research permit to AAA on Nov. 20 and then reissued it on Dec. 3, according to SCAQMD Deputy Executive Officer of Engineering and Permitting Amir Dejbakhsh. The research permit allows AAA to install a carbon absorption system to mitigate emissions from crumb rubber blending and replace parts of the facility’s petroleum asphalt heater.
“The research permit will allow us to evaluate the effectiveness of the carbon system in reducing odors and, at the same time, because of the extensive source testing and monitoring requirements that we have imposed, we will be able to accurately determine the emissions from this operation,” Dejbakhsh said.
In addition to this research permit, SCAQMD initiated the process of collecting air samples from areas surrounding AAA on Dec. 2 in order to evaluate the content and potential impact of its emissions.
“South Coast AQMD is analyzing its first samples collected from air sampling at Northwood High School and Canyon View Elementary School, near the All American Asphalt facility,” SCAQMD Senior Public Information Specialist Bradley J. Whitaker said in a written statement to the New University. “Results will be posted on South Coast AQMD’s All American Asphalt Community Investigation webpage as soon as they are available.”
SCAQMD Assistant Deputy Executive Officer of Science & Technology Advancement Dr. Jason Low explained that the agency has been working with the Irvine Unified School District to install one air sampling monitor at each of these school campuses, and plans to collect and evaluate the samples in the next few months.
“We initially will collect 8-10 sampling events over a two month period and evaluate next steps from the data,” Low said during the December community meeting.
A map displayed at the public meeting shows that both schools are approximately a mile away from the asphalt facility. While no public data confirming the composition of AAA’s emissions has been released by SCAQMD at this time, one of the residents’ main concerns is the safety of their children.
“Compliance does not really equate to protecting public health and safety,” Kim Konte, founder of the Non-Toxic Neighborhoods organization, said in a public comment at the community meeting. “As parents and residents of Irvine who have children … our focus is making sure the air that our children are breathing is safe.”
Konte explained that Non-Toxic Neighborhoods partners with UC Irvine faculty to independently collect and evaluate samples from Irvine residents. She cited that the air sampling monitors used in this preliminary research showed increased levels of volatile organic compounds (VOCs).
“We saw a huge spike in VOCs over the Thanksgiving holiday, which was concerning,” Konte said. “And I think the biggest concern is that we know now from the baseline data … that the peaks in VOCs are happening when our children are at school.”
Residents and the Irvine City Council agree that they would like more direct enforcement from the SCAQMD. According to the City of Irvine’s letter, “We believe that our residents deserve a more transparent and proactive approach from the agency charged with safeguarding their health.”
The South Coast AQMD has expressed a willingness to potentially collaborate with other agencies to interpret the results of its air samples.
“Although South Coast AQMD is conducting its own independent investigation, we are open to working with other entities,” Whitaker said to the New University. “In the past, South Coast AQMD has reached out to other health agencies to assist with data interpretation and are open to doing so in this case.”
Results from the agency’s air monitoring are expected to be released to the public by February 2021.
Ariana Keshishian is a City News Intern for the 2020 fall quarter. She can be reached at email@example.com.