By Wayne Chan
LOS ANGELES, CA — A scrapyard next to Jordan High School in Watts was raided by authorities this week—Atlas Metals has been reported for a myriad of violations endangering the students and staff of Jordan High School, prompting students and staff to protest the business.
A summary of violations by from the Department of Toxic Substances Control (DTSC) showed that Atlas Metals violated health and safety codes regarding the Illegal Disposal of Hazardous Waste; Storage of Hazardous Waste; and Treatment of Hazardous Waste. These violations can be charged as either misdemeanors or felonies under California law.
Tim Watkins, a member of the Coalition of Healthy Families, said the execution of a search warrant suggests the matter has been escalated from civil to criminal, noting, “When a corporation pollutes and poisons our children we can’t simply respond with fines and fees, they need to be held accountable in a manner that’s commensurate with the impact they’ve had on our community.”
Speakers spoke about how pieces of shrapnel from the plant have been launched onto schoolgrounds. A piece of shrapnel once “narrowly missed” a construction worker.
There was also an actual bomb that exploded in Atlas Metals, according to authorities, that propelled multiple pieces of shrapnel onto the school. In an attempt to contain the shrapnel, Atlas Metals erected a makeshift wall of stacked containers.
A Supervising Structural Engineer for LAUSD recently stated, “The container wall poses a clear and present danger to the students and staff at the school.”
He added, “In my opinion, there is a real potential danger that this wall of stacked shipping containers is likely to tip and fall, and because of the wall’s height and immediate proximity to the school, such a collapse could be catastrophic with potential serious injuries or death to occupants of the school. I am particularly concerned about electrical poles and high voltage wires in the potential pathway of the wall if it were to collapse.”
The daily activities of Atlas Metal regularly emit metallic dust into the surrounding area, reportedly, and the plant routinely burns materials that expose the students and staff to toxins in the air, said people at the protest this week.
Staff described “a shiny metallic dust described as a purple shimmer [that] is commonly observed on the school’s blacktop and playing fields, which returns within a few days after [it] rain[s].”
The activities of Atlas also disrupt student’s ability to learn, according to a letter sent to Los Angeles officials by more than 100 students from Jordan High School.
They detail how their daily lives are affected, noting, “Every day, we hear the sounds of cars being crushed, smell the fumes of metal being burned, and feel our classroom shake from the facility’s operations. At times, the noise is so loud we are unable to hear our teachers speak and classes must be paused. The school closed the field down after nails and broken glass were found on our softball field. We worry that we’ll be hit with shards of scrap metal that have been known to fly over the fence when we play on the blacktop.”
Court records show that loud noises from Atlas Metals have caused students to cup their ears. Staff describes noises such as “the violent slamming and crushing of metals…metallic dust on the blacktop and playing fields…large and dangerous pieces of metal… [and] incredibly loud explosions that sound like bombs…children are oftentimes deprived of essential outdoor physical education.”
The practice of Atlas Metals has also cost the school significantly. LAUSD recently spent hundreds of thousands of dollars cleaning the classrooms of lead.
Three million dollars was spent cleaning toxins in the soil of the school. And after spending $3 million to clean the soil, LAUSD then had to shut down a softball field to protect students from the high-risk area.
Rep. Nanette Barragan, the congress member who represents the district which Jordan High School is in, recently asked the EPA to “remediate the toxic contamination at Jordan High School in the Watts neighborhood of Los Angeles – and to prevent the school’s neighbor, S&W Atlas Iron & Metal Company (Atlas), from further releasing hazardous waste which threatens the health and well-being of students, school staff, and the surrounding community.”
The congressperson recently visited Jordan High School to discuss the issue with the U.S. Assistant Secretary for Health and Human Services, Admiral Rachel Levine, representatives from LAUSD, members of the Coalition for Healthy Families, and Jordan High School student representatives.