Watts metal salvage yard near school charged with illegal waste handling
A metal salvage and recycling yard adjacent to Jordan High School in Watts was charged with 24 criminal counts for alleged illegal disposal of hazardous waste, the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office announced Wednesday.
S&W Atlas Iron and Metal Corp. and its owners Gary and Matthew Weisenberg were charged with 21 felony counts of knowingly disposing hazardous waste at a site with no permit and one felony count of deposit of hazardous waste, prosecutors said. They were also charged with single misdemeanor counts of public nuisance and failure to maintain or operate a facility to minimize the possibility of a fire.
Arraignment for the defendants was set for Monday in downtown Los Angeles.
Benjamin Gluck, an attorney for Atlas and the Weisenbergs, said in a statement they were “disappointed to see the charges.”
“Atlas is actively working with the many public agencies involved and is actually moving close to a global resolution,” Gluck said. “The district attorney declined to engage with us and chose instead to file charges. We have not learned the details of those charges yet, but we will defend this case vigorously.”
The charges are the latest legal entanglement for the company, which was sued in 2020 by the Los Angeles Unified School District. The federal lawsuit alleges hazardous substances, waste and fumes from the salvage yard were endangering students and faculty at Jordan High. The suit even contended that a pair of explosions in 2002 sent metal shrapnel raining onto the campus.
According to the District Attorney’s Office, soil samples taken at the high school adjacent to the Atlas facility “showed excessive concentrations of lead and zinc,” while samples taken at Atlas found excessive concentrations of seven metals.
Prosecutors also claim metal debris believed to have originated from the Atlas facility was found on the school grounds.
“The charging of Atlas Metal for their environmental crimes is a step toward justice for the children of Jordan High School and the community of Watts,” District Attorney George Gascón said in a statement. “Children deserve a safe and healthy environment to learn and grow in, and we must hold companies accountable for their actions that put our children’s health at risk. This serves as a reminder that we must prioritize the well-being of our communities and take action against those who prioritize profits over people.”
LAUSD Superintendent Alberto Carvalho said the filing of charges is an important step in efforts to address “dangerous environmental health and safety impacts to our schools that result from incompatible land uses.”
He said such concerns are exacerbated “in underserved communities who are often confronted by adverse industrial impacts that cause air, water and land pollution.”