By DAVE SCHWAB | Mission Times Courier
A year ago, residents near Superior Ready Mix (SRM) on Mission Gorge Road claimed the concrete plant was turning their neighborhood into a dust bowl.
That issue has since subsided. But neighbors now are insisting a new problem — health concerns from foul odors — has taken its place.
Numerous neighbors near Superior have recently complained of noxious odors they claim are coming from the asphalt plant to San Diego Fire Rescue, Hazmat and SDG&E. All three agencies responded and investigated.
“The smell outside of our home was incredibly strong, even from that distance,” said Elizabeth Howard, who lives 1.7 miles from Superior. “It is unacceptable for a company to be making money at the expense of the neighborhood’s health. … The last time I was home when they were making that smell, I had to stay inside with the windows and doors shut. I felt nauseous and headachy after being outside for just one minute.”
“I live close by and on many occasions have noticed and become concerned about our air quality,” said another Superior neighbor, Jennifer Weaver. “I had to take my 2 year old away from our community and neighborhood so that he could play outside. I get nauseated and have headaches due to the pungent and repulsive air quality. My son has asthma, and I’m concerned about what he is breathing.”
Dana Giusti, who lives on Conestoga Way, said the Superior odor issue is not new. “My family and myself have had to deal with the horrid smells and dust emitted from Superior for years, which have gotten worse and worse,” she said. … “The smells were so strong that my family had headaches, sore throats, watery eyes and complained they couldn’t breathe. …There seems to be zero accountability for Superior … I can guarantee that Superior is not in compliance due to how horrid the smells were just last week and how sick my entire family was.”
Mary Padgitt, who moved to Old Cliffs Park just over a year ago said, “I have noticed the odor (from Superior) becoming progressively worse since I moved here … becoming severe enough that I avoid going outside several times a week, especially in the morning. I have been considering moving from my home because I am extremely concerned by the health risks this problem poses.”
Allied Gardens resident Jenny Wilson, who’s lived on Laramie Way for nearly 10 years noted, “Our neighborhood smells really bad like burning rubber and it’s due to the production of asphalt at Superior. It smells so awful. It’s affecting the quality of life for me and my family… recently I was just loading my children into the car and just with that brief exposure to the smell outside, it caused me to feel nauseous and gave me a terrible headache. … I am also concerned that this situation could potentially affect the value of our home if we ever decide to sell it.”
“I have a 3-month-old baby and we had been going on walks each morning,” said Kristine Riesch of Red River Drive. “However, I do not want him to breath in the terrible smell since I do not know what harmful effects it may have, so we have not been able to go for our morning walk… I should be able to walk around my neighborhood without worrying about what my baby is breathing in.”
Noting the quarry at 7500 Mission Gorge Road began operations in the 1940’s, and has been yielding much-needed construction materials ever since, SRM spokesperson Arnold Veldkamp said: “Complaints about odor have been very infrequent, and most of the time there is no detectable odor from the asphalt plant. Regardless, Superior purchases a chemical additive which is added to asphalt oil to reduce the odor.”
There’s been a new wrinkle though, noted Veldkamp.
“Recently, Superior has been supplying rubberized asphalt for road repair for the City of El Cajon,” he said. “Rubberized asphalt uses a liquid asphalt blend that uses rubber from recycled tires, and unfortunately, has a stronger odor than regular asphalt.”
Veldkamp said rubberized asphalt has some advantages such as reducing road noise, recycling tires that would otherwise be landfilled, being longer lasting and of higher quality and supplying better road traction, especially in wet weather.
Added Veldkamp, “Because of the odor, Superior does not sell rubberized asphalt unless the local agency requires it. The City of El Cajon is the only local entity that requires the use of rubberized asphalt, and the City of El Cajon job is nearly finished. Superior does not plan to produce any more rubberized asphalt after the El Cajon job is finished.”
Kirk Riley, who is watchdogging Superior to ensure it is living within its regulations and permitting, talked about the outcome he and other neighbors would like to see with how plant problems are dealt with in the future.
“Neighbors want a voice in the process of SRM’s permit renewal,” Riley said. “They are the ones being impacted by SRM’s operating conditions, and potentially exposed to health hazards. But when it comes to renewing the permits, the quality of life conditions the neighbors face doesn’t seem to make a difference. They want and need a say regarding what is being produced in essentially their back yards, and what they and their loved ones are forced to breathe.”
Riley claims residents near Superior have been having problems with the plant since the 1990s. “Back in 1935, the quarry on the land off Mission Gorge Road used to be a relatively small operation,” Riley said. “In 1991, Superior Ready Mix bought the relatively small quarry business and started expanding. To the surprise and horror of neighbors, dust started coating their properties and obnoxious fumes permeated the air. The expansion of SRM essentially happened without the neighboring communities having any input.”
Added Riley, “Superior started growing. APCD Permit number 930742 allowed SRM to install a new hot mix asphalt plant with a 500-ton-per-hour capacity. This increased their production capacity by 150%… Residents point to at least one law that is supposed to protect them, the ‘nuisance’ law, which states no person can discharge air contaminants that cause injury, nuisance or annoyance to any considerable number of persons or the public, or that endanger the comfort, health or safety of such persons. Residents around Superior Ready mix have been filing nuisance complaints with the APCD for years. But they wonder if anyone is listening.”
Riley said Fire Station 31 was called out to the Superior plant five times on Nov. 23. “On the fifth time, Capt. Anders said he saw Hazmat was on the scene and left it to them,” Riley said.
Mónica Muñoz, San Diego Fire Department media services manager, said SDFD engine 31 responded to a report of the odor of natural gas in the air from 7432 Conestoga Way. “They determined that it was the odor of asphalt in the air and no hazard existed,” Munoz said, adding there was also a response by SDFD engine 31 to Mission Gorge and Princess View to a report from someone driving through the area reporting a fuel spill. “Engine 31 responded and was not able to locate a fuel spill,” she said. “They did detect an odor of asphalt in the air, but determined that there was no hazard.”
Searching Hazmat (hazardous materials) calls, Munoz found one response to 6875 Clara Lee. “It was a report from a resident of a noxious odor in the air,” she said. “SDFD engine 31 responded and investigated. They determined it was an odor of asphalt in the air and that there was no hazard.”
Mahiany P. Luther, County chief of Departmental Operations, sent Riley a letter confirming that an investigation is ongoing into neighbors’ complaints of odors coming from Superior.
“The investigation is open,” Luther said. “The engineering department is working on a health risk assessment to evaluate the emissions of toxic air contaminants. We are verifying compliance will all applicable rules and regulations and we will take enforcement actions if we document a violation.”
— Reach Dave Schwab at firstname.lastname@example.org.