Quemetco continuous environmental violations spark local outcry

Residents say their concerns haven’t been addressed since the Quemetco settlement with state regulators in 2022


Josh Sanchez

File photo of the Quemetco facility in the City of Industry.

Grassroots climate change advocates throughout the San Gabriel Valley have raised questions surrounding a lead smelter, Quemetco Inc., in the City of Industry, California, charged with over 29 environmental penalties in December 2022.

The same month, Quemetco West, LLC, owner of the Quemetco facility, paid the California Department of Toxic Substances Control $2.3 million in penalties.

The community says it isn’t enough.

On the ground, one grassroots organization, the Clean Air Coalition of North Whittier and Avocado Heights, has continued to put pressure on the department, the South Coast Air Quality Management District and Quemetco.

The coalition has been a prominent group in the community advocating on behalf of residents who may be affected by the nearby Quemetco facility since 2014.

In addition, much of the recent action taken by local grassroots organizers has been advocating to prevent Quemetco from expanding their operations by a proposed 25%, a move that has been in limbo since 2013.

“We stepped in in 2014, but what we did is we started with the Department of Toxic Substances Control, there had been no soil testing around the quarter mile around Quemetco,” said Marilyn Kamimura, a representative of the organization.

“Well, that’s how long it’s been, 10 years, where at least we’ve stopped them from expanding it, and so, South Coast [Air Quality Management District], we believe right next year, they’re going to back up as soon as the hazardous waste permit is passed,” she said.

“I’ve said many times, the [Department of Toxic Substances Control] is complicit, with helping move this along,” Kamimura continued.

On March 10, a San Gabriel Valley Tribune article summarized the department’s 29-count settlement with Quemetco, two of which remain unresolved.

Those two penalties, however, are concerning the leaking of hazardous waste into nearby communities and the lack of monitoring systems to oversee the leaking of hazardous waste into the underground aquifer.

“When that lawsuit was filed, it felt like [Department of Toxic Substances Control] was turning a page, four years later, the result of that lawsuit was nothing,” said Earthjustice lawyer Byron Chan, speaking with the San Gabriel Valley Tribune.

Much of the concern surrounds the department’s funneling $1.15 million of the $2.3 million to “non-specific educational programs” provided through various non-profit organizations.

These non-profit organizations are referred to by the department as “Supplemental Environmental Projects” with the purpose of offsetting the defendant’s penalties.

Among these non-profit organizations is the California School-Based Health Alliance, which according to their website, “aims to improve the health and academic success of children and youth by advancing health services in schools.”

The non-profit, based out of Oakland, California, received $575,000 from the department despite local school board trustees telling the San Gabriel Valley Tribune that they were not consulted regarding this.

Aside from the Clean Air Coalition of North Whittier and Avocado Heights, local groups such as the Sierra Club’s San Gabriel Valley Task Force have also been involved in opposing Quemetco’s proposed expansion.

At Mt. SAC, Students for Socialism, a student group for the Party for Socialism and Liberation, have also raised the issue of Quemetco’s expansion by posting fliers throughout campus as well as calls to action on social media.

The Clean Air Coalition of North Whittier and Avocado Heights continues to hold town hall meetings on the matter. The next one is scheduled on Wednesday, April 26, and will be held at Evergreen Church in La Puente, California.