IRWINDALE, Calif. — The makers of the popular Sriracha chili sauce are facing a lawsuit from this Southern California town claiming the odor from its facility is a public nuisance.
Outside Huy Fong Foods' Irwindale plant Wednesday morning, you couln't smell a thing until trucks carrying loads of jalapeño chili peppers arrived. Even then, the smell is faint, pleasant even, like chili peppers mixed with garlic.
The plant sits on the edge of town 20 miles east of Los Angeles next to a Sparkletts bottled water facility and across from a liquor store. It's an area dominated by industrial parks and gravel pits. Semi-trucks rumble down the roads.
"Approximately a month ago, city officials began receiving complaints," Irwindale City Attorney Fred Galante said. The odor from the plant has been burning residents' throats and causing eye irritation and headaches. Residents have had to go indoors or leave the area temporarily until the odor subsided. Galante said he can smell the facility at City Hall, more than a mile away.
The plant previously operated at 10% capacity, but has ramped up production to 40%, Galante said. It's unclear if the facility has scaled back production since the lawsuit was filed. A Huy Fong Foods spokesperson would not answer questions about changes in production.
Nearly two dozen members of the media were at the plant Wednesday morning. Each received a face mask. After a 2.5-hour wait, the company canceled a tour of the facility, citing an "inspection" that was taking place, but the company did not elaborate.
The city approached Huy Fong Foods about the odor and "the initial response was positive," Galante said. The company said they would install equipment that would lessen their production's impact, but "it's clear that whatever they installed is ineffective," Galante said. The complaints are still coming in.
Rafael Gomez, who lives down the street from the plant, said the odor causes him and his children to cough, tear up, and have headaches. "I smelled it a half a mile away the other day when I was picking my kids up at school," he told the Associated Press.
Monday, the city filed a lawsuit in the Los Angeles County Superior Court, and although it seeks "an informal solution," Galante said Irwindale will seek a restraining order for the company.
David Tran, chief executive and founder of Huy Fong Foods, told the Los Angeles Times if the city shuts down the plant, the price of Sriracha will increase.
The popular hot sauce is named for a city in Thailand. In 2012, 20 million bottles were produced. It's more expensive per gallon than gasoline.
"If it doesn't smell, we can't sell," Tran told the paper. "If the city shuts us down, the price of Sriracha will jump a lot."