Southern California air regulators on Friday charged a Riverside County cement plant with violating dust-control statutes, days after revelations that the site was believed to be emitting high levels of carcinogenic hexavalent chromium.
The South Coast Air Quality Management District also demanded that officials from TXI Riverside Cement Co. in Rubidoux hand over up to two years' worth of maintenance and equipment records and perform an updated health-risk assessment within 150 days.
Earlier this week, the district concluded that outdoor dust piles were the source of high readings of hexavalent chromium measured over a period of five months.
Company officials, who were not available for comment Friday, have said they need to verify the district's findings.
The facility operators could face fines as high as $25,000 a day if they do not contain the plumes of dust billowing off their property, but district officials said they first would work with the company to try to fix the problem.
"I hope the community knows we are taking this matter very seriously and taking all available steps to ensure the chromium emissions are eliminated to the degree feasible," said Barry Wallerstein, AQMD executive officer.
But critics say the district's actions are too little too late and called for the plant to be shut down until the problem is fixed. They said regulators should have noticed the higher levels in 2004, when a nearby air monitor began registering a potential increase, and should not have waited until late last year to investigate further.
Wallerstein said that levels measured near the plant were not high enough to require immediate shutdown and that short-term exposure did not pose undue risk.
Long-term exposure to the hexavalent chromium found in the area could translate into as many as 500 additional cancer cases in a million people, according to state and local public health modeling.
Polluters are required under district regulations to keep cancer risks from emissions at 25 or fewer cases per million people exposed over a lifetime.
Numerous people who have lived and worked near the plant for decades told The Times they had contacted AQMD repeatedly with concerns about the thick dust blowing from the site. They said that even when inspectors did come out, they said nothing could be done.
"The cement plant has been a problem for that community for many years," said Penny Newman, executive director of the Center for Community Action and Environmental Justice.
"But what really disturbs me is they have had these test results for quite a few years before it reached people to be analyzed or evaluated . . . and not notifying residents is pretty outrageous."
Air district officials will hold a community meeting at 6:30 p.m. Monday at Ina Arbuckle Elementary School, 3600 Packard St., Rubidoux, to discuss their findings and answer questions.
More information is available from Pom Pom Ganguli, the AQMD's public advisor, at (909) 396-3185.
An air district website with information and records on the Riverside plant has been set up at www.aqmd.gov (click on "Hexavalent Chromium Study").