(Reuters) - The small Southern California town of Irwindale has opened a new front in its battle against what it says is a pungent, tear-inducing odor from a chili processing factory owned by the makers of Sriracha-brand hot pepper sauce.
The City Council voted 4-0 at a meeting on Wednesday night to authorize staff to prepare a resolution to declare the plant's peppery fumes a public nuisance, and giving Huy Fong Foods 90 days to remedy the situation.
A fifth council member who lives within 500 feet of the plant abstained to avoid the appearance of a conflict of interest.
The council is expected to vote on the resolution at its next hearing on April 23, according to a spokeswoman for the city manager's office who confirmed the vote.
Huy Fong's red-colored Sriracha Hot Chili Sauce, sold in clear squeeze bottles with a green cap and trademark rooster logo, is one the top-selling condiments in the United States.
Celebrated as the ingredient of the year in 2010 by Bon Appetit magazine, the sauce has inspired cookbooks, a food festival, a movie documentary and even a potato chip flavor.
Irwindale filed a lawsuit against Huy Fong last October saying the strong smell of peppers being crushed at the plant was causing headaches and irritating the eyes and throats of nearby residents, forcing some to remain indoors during the day.
The lawsuit said the company had refused to take corrective action. Huy Fong Foods owner David Tran has said rooftop vent filters at the factory absorb about 90 percent of the chili and garlic odors.
In November, a Los Angeles County Superior Court judge ordered the hot sauce maker to cease emissions of the fumes but declined to order the factory closed and was not specific about what Huy Fong should do to control the smell.
The South Coast Air Quality Management District has performed tests at the facility but found no violation of air quality standards, said Sam Atwood, a spokesman for the regional agency said.
The air district has suggested carbon filtration as a potential solution. The agency has received some 70 citizen complaints about the plant since November, most from a "handful of households," Atwood said.
The company said it was disappointed with the City Council action and would continue to work with the Air Quality Management District on the matter.
"But at the end, we believe the city will do what they wish to do regardless," the company said.
(Reporting by Steve Gorman and Dana Feldman; Editing by Cynthia Johnston)