Police raid a metal recycling plant accused of endangering Jordan High students, neighbors

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Authorities served a search warrant Wednesday on a metal recycling facility in Watts accused of endangering residents and students at neighboring Jordan High School with hazardous fumes, runoff and sharp metal projectiles that have landed on the campus grounds.

The warrant was part of an investigation being conducted by the Los Angeles County district attorney’s office’s Bureau of Investigation, but a spokesperson with the office declined to provide details about the ongoing investigation.

Located adjacent to Jordan High School, S&W Atlas Iron & Metal Co. has been hit with two lawsuits — by the city and the Los Angeles Unified School District — and has been targeted with protests from students, school staff and community members calling for the plant to be relocated or shut down.

As part of its lawsuit the city obtained a restraining order last year, barring the company from work that has ejected shards of metal onto the campus. L.A Unified filed suit in 2020 against Atlas in federal court, alleging that the dust coming from the plant is made up of lead, arsenic and other hazardous materials that leave behind a “purple shimmer.”

Representatives for Atlas have defended the company as a family-owned business that has long operated responsibly in the area and provided an important source of employment. An employee who answered the phone at the metal recycling plant Wednesday declined to speak to a reporter. Atlas officials did not respond to emails or return phone calls Wednesday.

The district has hoped to apply the legal and political pressure necessary to force the plant to relocate or shut down, calling it an unsuitable neighbor for a school as well as for the makeover of the adjacent Jordan Downs public housing development.

L.A schools Supt. Alberto Carvalho called the situation “outrageous. … The fact that there are projectiles flying from that site onto the school grounds and the remediation steps that have been taken have proven to be absolutely ineffective. … We need expedited solutions.”

“I know the community is very, very strong on this issue. … I find it absolutely irresponsible, unacceptable, that legal maneuvering continues to elevate the private-sector interests over the people, the children’s needs of this community,” he said this week, adding that the district is in mediation with the firm, but that the process “seems to me … fraught with with frivolous delays.”

On the first day of school Monday, Jordan High students and community members protested the Atlas situation.

“I take this as seriously as I do gun violence — it’s not different to me — because it’s costing lives,” said Tim Watkins, president of Coalition for Healthy Families, a group of teachers, staff and local activists that have been organizing against the plant. “I don’t know yet if there’s been a criminal claim made, but I think that’s what’s needed.”

Two weeks ago, Watkins said, Coalition for Healthy Families organized what he called a “toxic tour of Watts” with multiple public officials to call attention to environmental issues in the community. The Atlas Metals site was the first stop.

The event included representatives from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the U.S Department of Justice, the state attorney general’s office and the Los Angeles County district attorney’s office.

The tour was launched after more than 100 students from Jordan High School sent a letter to city officials demanding they take action against the plant.

The plant has been in the same location since 1949. But Watkins, who has been protesting against the company for years, said it’s time for it to “get the hell out of Watts.”

“It’s time for them to go somewhere where they’re not hurting their neighbors,” he said.

After the LAUSD lawsuit was filed, the company created a barrier made of cargo containers next to the high school, hoping to stop metal projectiles from going into the campus.

“It’s not the kind of solution that’s needed,” Carvalho said.

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