Complaints Against Sriracha Factory Increase

Photo:cookbookman17/Flickr/Creative Commons License

A group of Irwindale residents went on record today as suffering from a sting in the air as part of the city's lawsuit against a hot sauce maker famed for its Thai-style Sriracha made with hot peppers.

Residents who live near the plant Huy Fong Foods Inc. opened in 2010 at 4800 Azusa Canyon Road gave sworn statements about eye, nose and throat irritation believed to be related to annual mashing of peppers.

On Thursday, Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Robert O'Brien refused to shut down production but set another hearing for Nov. 22 to consider a request for a preliminary injunction against the company.

"When I breathe in the fumes I feel as though I am choking," said Manuel H. Ortiz, son of Irwindale City Councilman Hector Manuel Ortiz, who has lived at his current home since 2005. "The odor and fumes cause me to feel nauseous as well. I am unable to enjoy the outside air of my neighborhood without the fear of those symptoms recurring."

Most the chilis are mashed at the plant during two months in the fall.

The odor is present every day except Sunday and is at its worst from 5 p.m. to 9 p.m., Ortiz says. On Oct. 18, the pepper-infused air affected a party at his home, he says.

"By 9 p.m. the odor and fumes were so strong that I had to shut all the windows in the house and turn on the air conditioning," Ortiz says. "During this time, I suffered from a feeling of burning eyes, gagging and severe coughing."

Yolanda Priscilla Zepeda, an Irwindale resident since 1976, said the Huy Fong plant has had an impact on her children's health.

"I recall an afternoon around mid-September of this year where my boys were playing in the front yard of my home when my 10-year-old son began severely coughing, his eyes began to burn and he said his breathing felt weird," she said. "His coughing continued when he was outside playing the following day as well. My son suffers from asthma so I was very concerned his condition would worsen if he continuously inhaled the vapors."

Resident Claudia Gallardo, who moved to Irwindale in 2001, said she was running on Fourth Street about 9 p.m. in September when she smelled a "strong odor of chilis" near the Huy Fong Foods factory.

"This strong odor would make me cough and I felt the immediate need to drink water," she said "I noticed my running partner would cough the same time as me. I also felt heartburn after inhaling the strong odor."

She said she hosted a birthday party in her back yard Oct. 19 and that many of her guests began to cough.

"I ... retreated into my house with my guests where my windows were shut in order to escape the fumes," she said.

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Carmen Roman, a 40-year Irwindale resident, said she first detected odors from the plant in the summer of 2012.

"The vapor irritates my eyes, causing extensive itchiness," she says. "My nose gets stuffy and at time it is so bad I am coughing just from breathing in."

The smell was especially intense when she visited her daughter in early September, she says.

"I was coughing so much my throat felt as though it was literally closing up," she says. "Although we were enjoying the outdoors and had the television and food outside, my family and I were forced to move indoors and had to shut all our window to prevent the fumes from entering the house."

Megan Zepeda, who has lived in Irwindale since 1975, says the smells are more than just an irritant when it comes to  her children.

"I have ... noticed that my children have been getting bloody noses a lot more frequently than ever before," she says. "My daughter suffers from a bloody nose approximately once a week. My son has had approximately four in the past few months. It is my belief that the vapors from the Huy Fong factory are the cause or have contributed to these occurrences ..."

Larry Castro, who has lived in the city for nearly three decades, says the plant's smell gave him heartburn while he was jogging in August.

"In an attempt to sooth the discomfort in my chest, I ingested Tums," he says.

Resident Richard Corpis said the factory's smell forced his wife, Loretta,  to cut short a bridal shower at their home in late September. Huy Fong Inc. was founded in 1980 by David Tran, who had farmed peppers near Saigon, Vietnam, and immigrated to the United States in 1979. Sriracha, formerly made with serrano chilis, quickly became Huy Fong's most popular product. In 2010, Bon Appetit magazine named Sriracha its ingredient of the year. Huy Fong had sales of about $60 million in 2012.

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