COMPTON — At bedtime, residents in a four-block area near Spring Avenue and Tucker Street on the north side of town shut their windows to keep out a gaseous odor that they say has caused them headaches and breathing problems and is so strong at times that it wakes them up.
"I felt that if I lit a match my house would explode. I thought it was a gas leak in my house. . . . All of a sudden my whole family got sick," said one Spring Avenue resident who asked not to be identified. She is selling her home, she said, in part because of the odor, adding that if the buyers "find out about it, then they're not going to want to buy."
Another neighborhood resident, Alice Jones, said a cough she developed three years ago, one year after moving to the area, is forcing her to move back in with her daughter on South Bradfield Avenue.
"When I was living on Bradfield I didn't have any kind of cough," she said. "There's a gas odor and another bad odor. The gas type is the worst. It gets all down my throat."
Residents believe that the odors--the gas smell and what has been described as a "septic tank" smell--come from the DeMenno/Kerdoon oil-recycling plant about two blocks away on North Alameda Street. Owners of the plant acknowledge that their business causes some of the odor, but say that theirs is only one of many industrial plants in the neighborhood. The Los Angeles County Health Services Department, which has begun an investigation of the area's potential health hazards because of complaints about the odors, this week received results of air sample tests done in August by the South Coast Air Quality Management District.
Although air tests showed a high level of cancer-causing agents in the air--in comparison to four other test sites around Los Angeles--the levels do not exceed recommended health standards, according to AQMD data. State health officials warned, however, that these standards were set for industry workers, not residents living near industrial plants.
The health department wants to determine the level of toxins in the air and see if there is a pattern to health complaints in the area. If a health hazard is detected, said Dr. Paul Papanek, chief of toxics epidemiology, his office would ask county or state health enforcement agencies to further investigate the case.
Plant owners Steve Kerdoon and Bruce DeMenno say they have been working to get rid of the odors by installing a sophisticated $150,000 incinerator designed to burn fumes that swirl inside the plant's 30 to 40 storage tanks. DeMenno said the storage tanks, if anything, leak the odors.
"I'm sure that we contribute somewhat to it," DeMenno said at a meeting with the residents at a Spring Avenue home last week. But, he added, "there are a number of industrial plants in the area and we're probably not the only one emitting odors."
Billie Miller, head of the North Spring Avenue Block Club, which met with air quality officials earlier this month, shook her head in disagreement. "The odor we get around here is the same odor hanging around your plant . . . we know your odor," she told DeMenno.
The plant, which manufactures asphalt and lubricating oil continuously, seven days a week, began using the incinerator two months ago. With 90% of the tanks already tied to it, DeMenno asked the residents at last week's meeting for 30 days "to get the guts of the system" linked to the remaining tanks.
"We want to be no source of odor," said Kerdoon, who gave his home phone number to about 20 of the residents who say the odors are particularly strong during the late night and early morning hours. "If you smell anything (at night), I want to know about it," Kerdoon said.
At the meeting, Kerdoon said he had hoped that residents would have experienced a
reduction of the odor within the last two months. But residents said that while the sewage-smelling stench has surfaced less often, the gas odor--which smells similar to odorized natural gas--still remains. About 110 homes are within a 600-foot radius of the plant, the Compton Planning Department said.
The plant has been cited by the AQMD in the past. After citing the firm for nine violations in the past two years, the agency filed a civil lawsuit in Los Angeles about a year ago asking that the plant be fined, said Ron Ketchum, an AQMD spokesman.
The suit will be updated, Ketchum said, to include a June public nuisance violation related to odor problems. Four of the 10 violations were odor-related. The plant was also cited three times in 1985 for burning too much sulfur in its incinerator, while the other three violations were because of smoke emissions.
The maximum the business could be fined would be $1,000 for each day ihe plant violated AQMD regulations. But such fines are rare, Ketchum said.
Complaint From Principal