DA serves search warrant at Watts metal recycling plant at center of several lawsuits

Authorities searched the facility Wednesday, two days after students held a protest at Jordan High School nextdoor.

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Thursday, August 18, 2022
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The Los Angeles County District Attorney's Office confirms it served a search warrant with assistance from the fire department, but did not say why. The metal recycling plant is facing several lawsuits.

WATTS, Calif. (KABC) -- On Wednesday morning, authorities in police uniform arrived at Atlas Iron & Metal Co. in Watts.

The Los Angeles County District Attorney's Office confirms it served a search warrant with assistance from the fire department, but did not say why. The metal recycling plant is facing several lawsuits.

One coalition points to Atlas as the source of contamination that's been found at Jordan High School, which is right next door.

"I would say it makes me feel like if all the advocacy that has been taking place, you know, wasn't for nothing," said Genesis Cruz, a senior at Jordan High School.

This comes two days after the Coalition for Healthy Families, including students like Cruz, held a protest on the first day of school.

READ ALSO | 'Epitome of neglect:' Coalition raises environmental health concerns in Watts, urges leaders to act

"I feel like sometimes, you begin to doubt, you know, when you don't see actions happening fast," Cruz said Wednesday afternoon.

The Los Angeles Unified School District said testing it commissioned found lead concentrations on the campus 75 times higher than what the Environmental Protection Agency defines as a hazardous threshold.

In 2020, it filed a lawsuit to recover funds it has spent on cleaning up the contamination.

Atlas also faces a lawsuit from the State Department of Toxic Substances Control. In 2020, the agency accused Atlas of violating the Health and Safety Code regarding illegal disposal, storage, and treatment of hazardous waste.

The Coalition for Healthy Families has repeatedly called for officials to go beyond civil litigation.

"Criminal action, so that we can go ahead and shut down the site, but more importantly, so that we can clean up the site and ensure that our students have a safe place to go to school," said Ingrid Rivera-Guzman, the president of the Latino Coalition of Los Angeles and member of the coalition.

The search warrant suggests a criminal investigation is underway.

Cruz, along with her peers, sent a letter to L.A. officials on the matter, demanding protection. Many detail Atlas exposes them to metal shrapnel projectiles, loud noise and metallic dust.

She believes Atlas is surprised by their advocacy.

"I think perhaps they didn't really care," Cruz said. "They thought nobody cared about us, but I think this shows a bit of care."

Atlas has not responded to Eyewitness News' requests for an interview or comment.

The company is also facing a civil lawsuit filed by the Los Angeles City Attorney's Office.

While a judge granted a motion to stay the case, the city attorney's office said it obtained a temporary restraining order that ordered defendants to "prevent projectiles from being launched or emitted from defendants' property."

The next conference on that matter is in October.