July 9, 2008

More Action Against TXI

By Liset Marquez

RIVERSIDE - Legal woes continue to mount against the Rubidoux cement company that was a source of high levels of an airborne chemical.

State Attorney General Jerry Brown and Riverside County District Attorney Rod Pacheco last week filed a lawsuit against TXI International, claiming the company exposed the residents to hexavalent chromium without warning.

The lawsuit was filed Thursday in Riverside Superior Court.

"Our office is very proactive with environmental crimes. This sends a message to businesses not to violate environmental laws and realize the effect on the communities," said Ingrid Wyatt, spokeswoman for Pacheco.

Gareth Lacy, a spokesman for Brown, said the intent of the lawsuit is to get TXI to change its practices.

Proposition 65 requires the business to either remove the chemical or post a warning, neither of which the company has done, Lacy said.

The proposition was established to protect residents from chemicals that cause cancer, harm or birth defects.

"These hazardous chemicals are designated that because they are harmful to the people who live and work there," Wyatt said.

Elevated levels of hexavalent chromium were detected in Rubidoux during a five-month South Coast Air Quality Management District investigation earlier this year. In April, the AQMD identified the cement factory as being responsible.

The elevated levels of the chemical were caused by the company leaving piles of cement dust in the open.

The lawsuit states that the company knew in 2006 that emissions from the dust piles were going into the surrounding areas.

The amount the state is seeking in penalties and restitution is undetermined. Lacy said the company is subject to a fine of $2,500 a day for violations.

Last month, TXI agreed to pay $1 million in penalties and reimbursement fees to the AQMD, as part of an agreement to reduce the elevated levels of hexavalent chromium.

TXI will pay $200,000 to the AQMD for its costs, plus $400,000 in penalties and another $400,000 for modernization of the facility to further reduce dust emissions.

Rachel Lopez, campaign director for the Center for Community Action and Environmental Justice, called the lawsuit a wake-up call to cement companies.

"This sends a very strong message that they can't continue to pollute the communities any longer," she said.

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