Photo Credit: Stop Toxic Asphalt Pollutants in Irvine (STAP)

The Irvine Company wants to build hundreds of new homes and a daycare center within a half-mile from an asphalt plant. The plant’s operations have resulted in more than 1,000 complaints from residents in north Irvine.

The Planning Commission has already voted to allow the Irvine Company to move forward with the project. Planning Commissioner Mary Ann Gaido is the only Commissioner to have voted against it. (Gaido is Councilmember Larry Agran’s representative on the Planning Commission.)

There is a meme that states every disaster movie starts with the government ignoring scientists. The All American Asphalt plant is our local disaster.

Although the Southern California Air Quality Management District (AQMD) checks emissions from the asphalt plant in 24-hour collection intervals, we know from UCI Environmental Health Professor and Non-Toxic Neighborhoods Advisor Jun Wu that the emissions vary strongly with time and space. And the reporting app provided by UCI Ecology Professors Kathleen Treseder and Steven Allison shows a map of airborne toxic emissions from the plant in the exact area where this new development is planned.

The localization in time and place is absolutely crucial in understanding the health threats to our north Irvine community. Given the California Air Resources Board emission data, we know that All American Asphalt is the single largest air polluting business in Irvine. Their plant emits 8 tons of volatile organic compounds (VOC), 221 pounds of benzene, and nearly 1800 pounds of formaldehyde per year. (Benzene and formaldehyde are known human carcinogens.)

These reported numbers indicate that approximately 800 billion liters of air in the north Irvine area can exceed the Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA) allowable limit for chronic exposure for formaldehyde for the year. This amounts to about 2 billion liters per day above the exposure limit. However, if emissions are localized in time and place, as shown by UCI scientists’ data, it also could be about 1 billion liters of air at twice the exposure limit, or 20 million liters at 100 times the exposure limit, released in possibly just one hour of the day. The same exposure risks exist for benzene, or the various VOCs from the plant. 1 billion liters of toxic air is hard to visualize, but it amounts to a column of toxic air 30 feet by 30 feet and 6 miles long, which can be produced on an average day from the plant.

The important point is that if those emissions are released in a small interval of time, they can affect residents at far above the OSHA limits for acute exposure. Such emissions would fail to be detected by a 24-hour integrated time sampling of AQMD sensors. That means we currently have no idea how acute the threats are to our current or future residents.

There is a tremendous liability here. I urge the City Council to take scientists’ and residents’ concerns seriously and not approve any more development prior to eliminating the public health threat and nuisance posed by the All American Asphalt plant.

Let’s listen to scientists and work together to fix the disaster movie playing out in north Irvine. We must close or move the asphalt plant before moving more people into the disaster zone.