Some of Los Angeles County's 25 to 50 rebuilt mattress factories go several years without inspections. Before Johnson showed up this month at Cousin Jack's, for example, the factory was last visited in January, 1988.
"You can do maybe the tip of the iceberg," Damant said. "You're basically spot-checking whatever you're looking at."
The state lab examines 10 to 30 mattresses a month, about 10% of the total furniture products it tests. Even then, there is a long backlog.
When a reporter visited the lab in late August, technicians were examining a rebuilt from Castro Mattress in Lynwood that had been shipped to Sacramento in May. Inside the new cover was a dirty, old mattress. Whether it was ever sterilized will never be known. Any traces of formaldehyde would be long gone in three months, according to Damant.
When lab tests determine that rebuilts have not been sterilized, Damant's customary practice is to write a letter to the factory requesting that it shape up its equipment and procedures. "Sometimes they are not even aware they have a problem until they get a negative result from us," he says.
His role, he says, is to seek compliance, not to close down businesses.
"By and large, most of the people in the second-hand business are very small and even if you take them to the district attorney's office, so what?," Damant asked. "What are you going to accomplish?