A metal processing firm in Paramount, California is in the middle of a controversy over allegations of high emissions of a carcinogenic pollutant. The firm, however, is taking action by filing a countersuit alleging that inaccurate readings had caused the concern.
Aerocraft Heat Treating Co. has filed a lawsuit against the South Coast Air Quality Management District in hopes of challenging the accuracy of an air monitor owned by the agency. The suit was filed on February 24 and requests a Superior Court judge to order the district to increase the hexavalent chromium monitoring data’s accuracy and to take one of its own measurements into consideration.
In the meantime, a group of residents in South L.A. has filed a class action lawsuit against Aerocraft — along with five other metal businesses — for “deliberate and intentional” emissions of hexavalent chromium, also referred to as chromium 6. The suit was filed on February 28 and seeks punitive damages.
This isn’t the first time concerns have been raised over chromium 6. In September 2016, a new study conducted indicated that chromium water contamination is more widespread than first believed. The report points out an estimated 218 million Americans have dangerous levels of chromium 6 in their home’s tap water.
Aerocraft’s lawsuit against AQMD evolved out of its claim that one of the district’s monitors inaccurately reported elevated levels of chromium 6 emissions close to Aerocraft’s facility on February 12. The firm also claims that the AQMD blatantly refused to take Aerocraft’s own air monitoring data, which did not show elevated contamination levels, into consideration. The high reported levels led the AQMD to order a temporary shutdown of the facility, slowing production schedules, according to the suit.
The AQMD has demanded four temporary shutdowns of Aerocraft’s operations involving chromium 6 over the past two months.
“Our air monitoring and analysis work in Paramount is conducted according to U.S. EPA standards and in adherence with strict protocols by our field monitoring and laboratory staff,” said AQMD spokesman Sam Atwood.
Precision Castparts Corporation, parent company of Aerocraft, takes the allegations seriously but says they’re lacking merit, according to spokesperson Jenny Dudikoff. Precision is a defendant in the suit and also the parent company of two of the other firms named in the complaint — Carlton Forge Works and Press Forge Company.
“We have made significant investments to our facilities in Paramount beyond what is required by current regulations, and we are also cooperating with and assisting state agencies by providing information as they consider revising regulations,” said Dudikoff. “We remain committed to operating responsibly and to protecting the health and safety of our employees, the community, and the environment while contributing to the regional economy.”
Meanwhile, Aerocraft has developed a plan to reduce pollution. The company will suspend all operations that produce chromium 6 if its average emissions exceed one nanogram per cubic meter over one week. This is expected to greatly reduce cancer risks of residents.
“The public should be assured that this Hearing Board order is working because anytime the levels exceed the threshold set in the order, the facility has to shut down, so there’s no question of the facility operating and emitting high levels of hexavalent chromium,” said Atwood. “That’s not happening anymore.”
Some residents are not exactly reassured by Aerocraft’s plan to reduce pollution. Robert Finnerty, an attorney involved in the suit, expects there to be a “significant” number of people taking legal action against Aerocraft.
If the class action lawsuit is certified by the judge, others can join and take action. In addition, employees may be able to receive compensation if they were injured as well — 74% of states require all businesses to have workers’ comp, and California is one of them.
While this suit primarily addresses outdoor air quality, some building codes address indoor air quality. We spend nearly 90% of our lives inside buildings, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, so if outdoor air quality is an issue for residents, the air quality inside the facility may be wreaking havoc on employees’ lungs.
“The overall goals of the action that people are taking out there is, one, to clean up the environment, two, compensate people who have been truly harmed and, three, deter polluters from continuing to try to skate around regulatory issues,” said Finnerty.