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City declares sriracha factory a public nuisance and sets a deadline

Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images

The city of Irwindale means business when it comes to sriracha, a Thai hot sauce that has caused plenty of airborne misery. The city declared the operations a public nuisance and ordered manufacturer, Huy Fong Foods, to stop polluting within 90 days. If Huy Fong fails to scrub the air, the council itself will go in and make the changes. According to an April 10 Time news article, the city made its declaration on Wednesday.

The sauce production facility was converted from the former Wham-O toy factory, where Frisbee and hula hoops toys were made. The sauce production process releases spicy fumes that drew scores of complaints about asthma, heartburn, tears, headaches, and nosebleeds.

It appears that the sriracha factory was just a giant pepper spray machine and it was creating a toxic environment. Hot peppers contain oleoresin capsicum, an oily resin plant extract. If enough molecules of the stuff get into the respiratory system, various levels of inflammation occur.

A 2003 Defense Technology Corporation study focused on the highly concentrated pepper sprays used for personal protection or by law enforcement. There is little or no study to tell how continuous commercial pepper sauce production releases oleoresin capsicum into the larger airspace and respiratory systems of an entire community.

The factory was partially shut down in the fall of 2013, but the stubbornly irritating fumes continued to be a public nuisance. The Irwindale city council agreed with the public nuisance characterization and made it an official designation.

It is not as if Huy Fong Foods has not tried to implement abatement measures. The company is getting help from South Coast Air Management District air quality experts. The goal is to do a better job on the air on improving the plant’s filtration system. The air-quality experts say that some progress has been made.

The sauce is also known as "rooster sauce." It started to gain popularity in the Vietnamese, Thai and Chinese food markets in the 1980s. It originates in Sri Racha, Thailand and was brought here by David Tran. He started the Huy Fong factory and went from selling the sauce out of a truck to become a business success story.

When the gourmets got hold of it, sriracha became a global sensation. Many consider it a staple. The sauce goes against the traditional vinegar based American sauces because it is sweeter and not as tangy. The ingredients are simple: Red chili peppers, garlic, vinegar, salt, and sugar.

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