Sriracha factory avoids public nuisance designation, for now

Regional air quality officials told the Irwindale City Council on Wednesday that the solution to complaints of spicy odors emanating from a Sriracha factory could be "very straightforward."

The comments came as the City Council considered declaring the hot sauce maker, Huy Fung Foods, a public nuisance, which would give city officials the necessary leverage to demand changes at the factory amid ongoing complaints from residents of spicy smells.
City Council members ended up voting to postpone a decision to declare the Sriracha hot sauce factory a public nuisance, saying they wanted to give the company time to work with the South Coast Air Quality Management District to identify a solution.

Sam Atwood, a spokesman for the Air Quality Management District, said the agency doesn't usually get involved with cases in which there has been no air quality violation, but this was a special case that had ramifications for the regional economy.

"We have a situation where a factory is threatened with a shutdown and the solution could be very straightforward," Atwood said.

Dr. Paul Rosenfeld, an environmental chemist with SWAPE, a Santa Monica consulting firm, presented his research about the smell on behalf of the city. He said it's possible that the smell is affecting fewer people at certain times because of certain weather conditions and air patterns above the factory.

Sriracha sauce contains garlic, which is sulfurous; peppers, which contain capsacin; and vinegar, which is acidic, Rosenfeld said. The harmful odors fill the factory's large empty spaces and are released intermittently into the surrounding community, Rosenfeld said.

"These odors change over time depending on what's going on," Rosenfeld argued.

Few people at the meeting could agree about whether the smell was harmful, and arguments broke out frequently outside the council chambers.

Sriracha fans appeared in droves, including the grower of Sriracha's peppers and the author of a Sriracha cookbook. 
For his part, Huy Fong Foods founder David Tran said he was pleased with the council's decision, and acknowledged there is an issue with the smell. But he continued to express doubt that the smell was harmful and invited the public to tour the factory.

"I have been operating for 33 years and now I'm opening my doors for everyone," Tran said. "People should just come and see."

Twitter: @frankshyong