WATTS, LOS ANGELES (KABC) -- The Los Angeles County district attorney on Wednesday announced 22 felony charges against a metal recycling company and its owners in connection with the dumping of toxic waste at Jordan High School in Watts.
Two misdemeanor counts were also brought against the company, Atlas Iron & Metal Co., and owners Gary Joseph Weisenberg and Matthew Jacob Weisenberg, D.A. George Gascón said at a news conference outside the school.
More than 500 students at the school "attend class and routinely breathe in dust with lead, chromium and other toxic materials, which we believe emanate from the scrap-metal recycling plant" located next-door to the campus, Gascón said.
Twenty-one of the felony counts allege the company of knowingly disposing hazardous waste -- including nickel, zinc and copper -- at a site with no permit; one felony count stems from the deposit of hazardous waste. The defendants each face one misdemeanor count of failure to maintain or operate a facility to minimize the possibility of a fire and public nuisance, prosecutors said.
"Throughout high school our learning environment was defined by violently loud noises, shaking, and noxious fumes," said Genesis Cruz, a student at the school who graduated last week. "We became accustomed to those smells, sounds, and the fact that portions of the campus had to be closed due to lead contamination. That was our normal, but it's not normal."
Dating back to July 2020, the criminal complaint alleges that the defendants violated state environmental laws by not properly getting rid of hazardous waste. Soil samples taken from an area of the campus that is adjacent to the Atlas facility showed excessive concentrations of lead and zinc, the D.A.'s office said. Additional samples taken at Atlas found excessive concentrations of seven metals.
"We were disappointed to see the charges," Benjamin N. Gluck, an attorney for the company, said in a statement provided to ABC7. "Atlas is actively working with the many public agencies involved and is actually moving close to a global resolution. 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."
Metal debris allegedly from Atlas has been found on the grounds of the high school, Gascón said.
Los Angeles Superintendent Alberto Carvalho, who also spoke at Wednesday's news conference, 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."
Arraignment in the case is scheduled for June 26.
Atlas Iron & Metal Co. has operated next to Jordan High School in Watts for more than 70 years.
The company has faced several civil lawsuit in recent years, including from LAUSD.