Defense Witness: Fumes May Be Coming from Steptoe’s Own Cafe or Moby Dick
The defense got its chance to start calling witnesses this morning in the Rogue States nuisance trial, and it brought Nelson Dilg to the stand to brag on the Smog Hog scrubbers, or electrostatic precipitators, that the Dupont burger joint has installed to clean its kitchen exhaust.
"They are probably the most robust unit out there," testified Dilg via video because he had a teaching gig during the trial. "It's as close to bullet proof as you're going to get with that design technology."
Dilg testified that the unit's manufacturer boasts the Smog Hog, a double pass system, can rid exhaust of more than 99 percent of the particulate matter that's .1 micron or larger. Particulate matter is what leads to odor.
Dilg, who gave his testimony without remuneration (unlike the plaintiff's expert witness), also inspected the Rogue States' Smog Hog unit on the roof of the canyon located between the burger joint's building and that of Steptoe & Johnson, which claims Rogue's fumes are entering its work space. Dilg visited the site during the busy lunch hours on Sept. 8, more than two weeks after the Aug. 23 cleaning of Rogue's Smog Hog. The timing was important to the defense, since Rogue has a maintenance plan that cleans the system every two weeks.
"This would be seeing it at its worst," Dilg testified.
Dilg found no evidence of grease pooling or puddling. "I was very happy with it," the witness said. "I felt good for myself for suggesting [the unit]."
The only thing that Dilg smelled was coming from the vent apparently owned by Moby Dick House of Kabob, which is located in the same 1300 Connecticut Ave. NW building as Rogue. Dilg testified that grease was puddled on the roof near the troublesome vent. "It was not the worst I've ever seen," he said. "But it needed attention."
When asked if he thought the odor in question was coming fro Moby Dick and not Rogue, at least based on his Sept. 8 inspection, Dilg testified, "It would be highly illogical not to come to that conclusion."
Dilg next visited the Steptoe offices, including its cafeteria located on a lower floor. He said he observed a cook-and-hold unit in the cafe that was not placed under a grease exhaust system but a register that re-circulates air throughout the Steptoe offices. There was grease clinging to the register, Dilg testified. "It's greasy and rusty from prolonged and proven abuse," he said.
Just as bad, Dilg noticed that the conditions were perfect for growing contaminants that could then float around the building's ventilation system. "It's the kind of condition I haven't seen in 20 to 25 years," he testified. Dilg said he called the Fire Department to report the conditions. He feared for the safety of the people in the building.
Dilg said that the cafe's conditions "have to be" contributing to the smell and health symptoms experienced by Steptoe employees.
On cross-examination attorney Deborah Baum noted that the D.C. Fire Department (or some agency; it was exactly clear) said there were no violations in the Steptoe cafe after an inspection. Dilg didn't back down from his position. He said that either Steptoe changed the conditions in the cafe or the city department "needs more training."
Baum also noted that the Smog Hog, according to its own manufacturer, claims only a 90 percent reduction in odor, a contention that seemed to surprise Dilg but which he didn't not dispute. Finally, Baum tried to get Dilg to acknowledge the hamburger operations that cook over open flames are more difficult to clean than others (Dilg didn't necessarily agree with that) and that Dilg never looked at the blueprints of the Steptoe building and could not know exactly where the cafe's register vents carry the re-circulated air. Dilg acknowledged that he didn't look at the blueprints but said he had conversations with the building engineer that gave him a decent lay of the system.
Dilg said he didn't dare ask any more questions of the Steptoe attorneys after one suggested that the exhaust-systems man get a license if he expected to depose anyone.