Decision of Hearing Awaited : Gas Manufacturer May Keep Operating

A La Mesa company that manufactures two highly toxic gases can continue to operate until a Sept. 10 hearing before the San Diego County Air Pollution Control District’s board, the district’s chief said Monday.

Richard Sommerville said a court injunction issued in February prohibits him from closing down Phoenix Research Corp. until the district’s hearing board reaches a formal decision on the company’s fate.

Last week, Phoenix Research lost a bid to obtain an operating permit from the board. The three board members failed to agree on whether to grant the firm’s appeal for a permit, so the company’s effort technically failed.

But Sommerville said that the injunction will remain in force until the board reaches an official decision on the plant, a subsidiary of Union Carbide. That is likely to come at the September hearing, when the board will consider the company’s request to keep operating while challenging the district’s denial of a permit in Superior Court.


Phoenix manufactures arsine and phosphine, which are widely used in the semiconductor industry. Exposure to even minimal concentrations of arsine can be almost instantly fatal.

The company operated quietly and without permits on Alvarado Road from 1973 to 1985, when publicity brought it to the attention of regulators. Union Carbide has agreed to move the plant by 1991, but wants to keep operating until a new site is found.