An industrial developer sues former tenants, alleging decades of contamination

Art Weiss Industrial Properties in South El Monte says it can't develop, lease or sell the site

2200 and 2128 Merced Avenue in South El Monte (Credit: Google Maps)
2200 and 2128 Merced Avenue in South El Monte (Credit: Google Maps)

What do former tenants at an industrial site owe the owner, who says they contaminated the property so thoroughly that it has been rendered unusable?

Art Weiss Industrial Properties is suing Quaker Chemical and half-a-dozen other companies over what it claims was decades worth of environmental contamination at its property in the San Gabriel Valley.

Art Weiss wants Quaker Chemical and the other firms to pay to clean up the four addresses in South El Monte along Merced Avenue. The firm claims it is missing out on development, leasing and sales opportunities. Most of the potential buyers and tenants wouldn’t want to deal with the contamination, according to the suit.

The same contamination has also stopped Art Weiss from refinancing or getting new loans on the property, according to the federal lawsuit, filed Monday in U.S District Court for Central California. Weiss wants the former tenants to pay for future abatement costs, and for all costs it has already incurred related to contamination of the site.

South El Monte, along with other surrounding communities in the San Gabriel Valley, are heavily polluted from years of industrial activity. The Environmental Protection Agency named several parts of the valley as Superfund sites in 1984.

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The threat remains real more than three decades later — EPA officials have installed air treatment systems in homes and commercial buildings in South El Monte as recently as 2017 to combat toxic fumes rising from soil.

In the case of Art Weiss’ South El Monte property, the suit says the contamination originates with Pennsylvania-based Quaker Chemical. Art Weiss claims the company owned Multi-Chemical Products, a firm that leased the site from 1969 until the early 1990s. The other defendants are various tenants that also leased facilities on the properties during that time period.

Art Weiss claims that Quaker agreed in its lease to pay up to $1 million per year for eight years to cover any damage Multi-Chemical incurred at the property. Art Weiss says that money was never paid.

Art Weiss Industrial Properties and Quaker Chemical did not return requests for comment by press time.

Art Weiss has had better luck with other properties. Earlier this week it sold an industrial building in City of Industry to a merchandising company for $11.5 million.