Consumer Watchdog Claims State Failed Wildomar Residents

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The 68-page Consumer Watchdog report titled “Golden Wasteland” cites case studies alleging the DTSC consistently failed to protect communities – including the Autumnwood development in Wildomar – from health harms posed by toxic waste

The California Department of Toxic Substances Control fell down on the job when it refused to test a Wildomar neighborhood for pollutants that some local residents say are killing them, a report out today from Consumer Watchdog alleges.

In response, the DTSC claims protocols are now being examined to identify areas of improvement at the state agency.

The 68-page Consumer Watchdog report titled “Golden Wasteland” cites case studies from across the state that allege the DTSC consistently failed to protect communities – including the Autumnwood development in Wildomar – from health harms posed by toxic waste.

Some Autumnwood residents have repeatedly called for the DTSC to test their neighborhood for dangerous substances after illnesses and two deaths were reported there, but the state agency has maintained tests conducted by the Southern California Air Quality Management District show there is nothing to warrant DTSC testing. (Click here for more on the SCAQMD test results.)

DTSC officials have attended two local workshops in Wildomar to address residents' concerns, but to date the agency has not tested for toxic substances in the Autumnwood neighborhood.

Today's Consumer Watchdog report quotes an unnamed DTSC scientist as saying, “These people are coming here for our help and they get the usual runaround. ‘No, we can’t test the soil; we’ll have to do that with other agencies,’ even though soil is squarely in our purview. People ask me, ‘why are you here?’ And I honestly can’t give them an answer. Why should they pay taxes if we can’t protect them?”

The DTSC has maintained that unwarranted testing is a burden on California taxpayers, but the Consumer Watchdog report alleges the agency has an obligation to test — and it alleges the agency has $26 million in resources that aren’t being spent.

“Inaction is the hallmark of the DTSC,” Consumer Watchdog’s Liza Tucker said during a conference call Thursday.

Tucker, who authored Golden Wasteland, accused the DTSC of sitting on its hands. “That’s what this agency is good at doing,” she said.

The Consumer Watchdog report listed action items allegedly needed to improve DTSC standards, including replacing top DTSC managers, scrutinizing the agency’s budget, and beefing up the DTSC enforcement division.

“It’s time for change,” Tucker said.

Xonia Villanueva was on Thursday’s call. She owns a home in the Autumnwood tract but said she and her family moved out after they became sick due to chlorinated hydrocarbons vaporizing into their residence.

“[It was] causing torture of the acutest kind,” Villanueva said.

She has reached out to the DTSC on numerous occasions, but the state agency has refused to test, she maintains.

“The DTSC has turned their backs on us,” she said.

“There’s no question the governor needs to shake up the DTSC,” Consumer Watchdog President Jamie Court said during Thursday’s call. “We’re hoping Sacramento will respond to this report.”

Assemblywoman Melissa Melendez (R-Lake Elsinore) has leaned on the DTSC in recent months. After reading today's Consumer Watchdog report, she said, "This report, unfortunately, is another glaring example of California’s government, in particular the DTSC, not working for the people it is supposed to protect."

Melendez, who represents Wildomar, added, "Once again I implore the DTSC to give its full cooperation to the investigation of the Autumnwood development in Wildomar so everyone involved can move on with their lives."

The DTSC did respond Thursday with a statement that signaled the agency is taking action, but it stopped short of making any promises to Wildomar residents.

“During the past several months, we have met with Consumer Watchdog representatives to understand their concerns. Their report raises valid issues, issues that we have known about for some time.  The report also contains inaccuracies,” the statement read.

The statement did not elaborate on what the inaccuracies are.

“Earlier this year, we launched an external, independent review of our permitting program," the statement continued. "This review is being conducted by California Personnel Services (CPS), a non-profit California agency that has done similar reviews for private companies, non-profit organizations and government agencies.  CPS’s review will include the perspectives of a broad range of stakeholders including communities from across the state. The report issued today comes at a good time in that its concerns and recommendations will be considered as part of that review.

“We take seriously our role in protecting the health of Californians and our environment," the statement summarized. "We will not shy away from identifying areas for improvement and taking any necessary actions.”

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