The company applied for a storm water permit this spring.
In a brief interview, owner Jose Martinez said the 2010 fire "was very minimal ... really quick, no injuries." He dismissed neighbors' concerns about water pollution. "When you wash your car, it goes into the storm water too," he said.
In Southern California, many bodies of water — from the Los Angeles River and Ballona Creek to parts of Santa Monica Bay — are contaminated with heavy metals, causing genetic damage to wildlife and interfering with their reproduction. Although scrap metal facilities are not the only reason, researchers said they are a significant one.
"Do you want to be swimming with automobile waste?" asked UCLA civil engineering professor Michael Stenstrom, who has studied water pollution from scrap metal facilities.
Some companies allegedly polluting on a large scale have been targeted by regulators. Late last year, the EPA accused Sims Metal Management, one of the world's largest metal recyclers, of polluting San Francisco Bay with lead, mercury, copper, zinc and polychlorinated biphenyls.
Steve Shinn, president of Sims' west region, said in a statement: "We take any shortcomings of our operations very seriously.... We are working diligently with the EPA to ensure our facility meets both our and their expectations."
Also last year, Los Angeles County prosecutors and the state reached a settlement with a metal shredding operation at the Port of Los Angeles that had allegedly released an estimated 4.4 tons of material into the air. The reason: A shredder had continued operating for months after an explosion destroyed its air filter.
SA Recycling of Anaheim, which bought the company after most of the violations occurred, agreed to a $2.9-million settlement in September.
In March 2011, state investigators inspected Central Metal in Florence-Firestone in response to complaints from neighbors. They found soil contaminated with PCBs, diesel fuel, zinc and lead, according to their report.
State officials say the company has cleaned up much of its operation and is expected to reach a formal settlement soon.
"We are in compliance with all the environmental issues raised by the regulatory agencies," said Central Metal manager Jeffrey Byun. "Our industry isn't the prettiest, but it is a necessary industry for L.A. County."
Even so, some neighbors say they won't let their children play outside.
"We cannot open the windows at all," said Monica Razo, 35. "I wish I had the money to move."