For the past 15 years, Irvine has been recognized as “The Safest City in America” based on FBI data for violent crimes. However, many residents in north Irvine will tell you that they do not feel safe in their own neighborhoods. Not because of violent crime, but because the All American Asphalt Company operates a major plant that generates toxic emissions and noxious odors.
More than 800 complaints have been reported to the South Coast Air Quality Management District by residents accusing All American Asphalt of not complying with air quality regulations. Homeowners in the area complain of headaches, nose bleeds, and eye and throat irritations. Some residents say it has gotten so bad that they are afraid to open their windows and are limiting their children’s outdoor activities. (Research has shown that long-term exposure to asphalt fumes can lead to severe respiratory diseases, and even cancer.)
One of the residents impacted by the toxic emissions is Kim Konte. In 2016, Konte successfully worked with other Irvine parents to get the City of Irvine and IUSD to ban the pesticide Roundup (which contains the chemical compound glyphosate) and, in Konte’s words, “transition to organic land management.”
Last September, Konte joined the Stop Toxic Asphalt Pollutants in Irvine team, which includes hundreds of homeowners in the area. The group is led by Lesley Tan and Dr. Kevin Lien who say that residents would never have purchased their homes if they knew that the All American Asphalt (AAA) plant was located nearby. Konte believes that “AAA is robbing our children of air that is safe to breathe, and is being allowed to exploit the flaws in the South Coast Air Quality Management District’s (SCAQMD) regulatory process.”
In 1987, the State of California enacted the Air Toxics Hot Spots Act program which requires companies like AAA to report the types and quantities of possibly harmful substances routinely released into the air. The purpose of the report is to have the emission data collected to identify facilities having localized impacts, to ascertain health risks, to notify nearby residents of significant risks, and to reduce those significant risks to acceptable levels. (Residents say that SCAQMD has failed to comply with California’s Public Records Act Request Policy which requires the agency provide AAA permits/records for inspection.)
Residents have reached out to the City for help. So far, those calls have largely gone unanswered. Since taking office, Mayor Farrah Khan has told residents that the City has no jurisdiction over air quality issues and that homeowners must deal directly with SCAQMD. Meanwhile, Councilman Larry Agran has been urging the City to schedule a public hearing on the matter. Agran believes that the City has a responsibility to be a stronger advocate on behalf of the homeowners, and to help find a near-term solution to the problem.
The California Air Resources Board (CARB) has met twice with the residents via Zoom. At those meetings, Konte says officials have expressed concern over the reported levels of hexavalent chromium from the AAA plant. (Hexavalent chromium is a known cancer-causing agent.)
The residents are also worried about recent increases in the plant’s production, which have resulted in dangerous increases in several other known carcinogens such as benzene, formaldehyde, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), phenol, toluene, arsenic, cadmium, lead, mercury, and nickel.
Over the past two weeks, Konte says that data obtained from sensors at Northwood High School and in Orchard Hills show alarming levels of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) in the air. (Northwood High School students have now joined the homeowners in the fight to protect the health of the community.)
When asked for a final comment on this issue, Konte stated: “Irvine residents should not be left on our own to battle a huge company and a regulatory agency [SCAQMD] that has failed us. Our City leaders should be standing with us, helping to advocate for our right to breathe safe air. Right now, the only member of the Council who has offered his help is Councilman Agran. The rest of the Council needs to stop playing political games at the expense of our children’s health, and get on the right side of this issue. The City of Irvine must revoke AAA’s business permit so that the company is forced to relocate to a remote area where they can no longer poison the air affecting families, neighborhoods, and schools.”
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