RICHMOND, Calif. (KTVU) - Contra Costa County health officials have issued a cease and desist order to a composting facility in Richmond after hundreds of people complained about terrible smells from the facility. Inspectors visited the site and say they found unsafe conditions and even fires at the facility indicating problems with the operations.
The county's environmental health director Marilyn Underwood says the facility handles green waste from residents in west and central Contra Costa County, including communities such as Richmond and Walnut Creek.
The complaints started in September from residents near the West Contra Costa Sanitation Landfill on Parr Boulevard. County health services officials say people described noxious, foul smells in the air.
"There were a total of 400 calls that came in not only to our facility, to the Air Board and the city of Richmond," said Victoria Balladares, a Contra Costa County Health Services spokeswoman, "We did receive reports of people with headache, nausea, and some throat irritation."
The county sent environmental health inspectors to the sprawling compost site which is owned and operated by Republic Services.
"While our health inspectors were there, they noticed seven fires. So when we see a fire at a compost facility what we know is there's something wrong," Balladares said.
Photos from county inspectors show smoke from the fires. Underwood says when compost is not turned enough, the buildup of heat from the microbes can cause the compost to self-combust.
The facility was fined $45,000 in October, but failed to address the problems. That prompted the county to issue the cease and desist order on January 24, 2016 with a deadline for complying with safe operating standards.
"Although it's not dangerous it is a nuisance and it can impact the quality of life," Balladares said.
KTVU reached out and left a message at the facility but as of Thursday night, no one had responded with a comment.
County officials have ordered the facility to submit a plan by February first, outlining the new business practices they intend to implement to address the problems.
If Republic Services does not comply, the facility could receive more fines or permanently lose its permit.
To make a complaint about air pollution or industrial odors in Contra Costa County, call the Bay Area Air Quality Management District at 1-800-344-ODOR (6367).