Concerned Neighbors of Wildomar and Penny Newman, executive director and founder of the Center for Community Action and Environmental Justice (CCAEJ) which serves Riverside and San Bernardino counties, released a report in response to the draft results of an investigation drawn up by the Department of Toxic Substances Control (DTSC). The report, American Dream or Toxic Nightmare, says that the DTSC manipulated what data was gathered and how it was counted in order to assert that the soil and water at the Autumnwood complex in Wildomar are clean when regulators’ own test results show otherwise. The report also details deaths in the Wildomar complex and illnesses among residents from chemically induced pneumonia to lupus. Several of 61 families were forced to abandon their homes and move.
Among the findings cited:
•Toxics regulators deny finding evidence of chemicals below the housing tract,
suggesting that the cause might be the air inside homes but their own test results show chemicals were found in the groundwater, soil, and soil gas in concentrations up to 1,000 times higher than in homes.
•Toxics regulators deny evidence of soil contamination when in fact both independent and DTSC testing shows that the Autumnwood homes are laced with
hundreds of toxic chemicals, including chlorinated hydrocarbons, petrochemicals, metals, and pesticides, all of which can cause injury, illness, and death.
•Toxics regulators deny shallow ground-water is a source of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) or toxic chemicals that easily gasify when in fact testing shows the groundwater contains many manmade VOCs, including benzene and formaldehyde.
•DTSC manipulated data, sometimes using more conservative risk thresholds for contaminants recommended by the state, and sometimes arbitrarily setting higher thresholds for toxic compounds.
The report cites several possible causes for the pollution. Among them are:
•Illegal dumping of toxic soil and other debris from underground gas station
storage tank cleanups and an illegal auto dismantling yard.
•Contaminated soil used to level the complex prior to construction that was brought in from a wastewater treatment plant.
•Crossed water lines that could be feeding the community non-potable recycled water—something that the Department of Public Health’s water regulation division refused to investigate despite test results that indicate the water is not potable. (The CDPH drinking water program is being reassigned to the State Water Resources Control Board.)
“State toxics regulators have shown by their actions that they don’t want to open up a Pandora’s Box where they might have to admit that more than one community in the state has been built on land contaminated with dangerously high levels of toxins that are making people sick,” said Liza Tucker of Consumer Watchdog.org.
Newman and Tucker said the state must extensively reform the way it regulates toxins by firing officials who violate the public trust, creating an independent environmental watchdog, training doctors on chemical exposure and human health effects, and granting full autonomy for the DTSC Office of Criminal Investigations. The unit is the only one in the California EPA with sworn peace officers on staff.
“The fact of the matter is that we had unbridled development in this state before the economic crash,” said Tucker. “The DTSC’s cleanup division is responsible for any manmade, toxic ripple effects. For state regulators to turn a blind eye, and worse, to claim nothing is there, borders on criminal, and will come back to haunt them as more communities report toxic poisoning.”
Tucker said that if the state enforced existing environmental laws and collected stiff penalties, funds would swell to cover cleanups of such “orphan” sites where responsible parties are hard to identify.
For a link to American Dream or Toxic Nightmare, see:http://www.consumerwatchdog.org/resources/americandreamortoxicnightmare.pdf
For a link to the DTSC’s preliminary results of its investigation of Wildomar, which also relied on input from the South Coast Air Quality Management District and water regulators at the Department of Public Health, see:http://www.consumerwatchdog.org/resources/dtscwildomardraftreport.pdf
For more about Wildomar, watch the video at http://www.thebugle.com and see the Consumer Watchdog report, Golden Wasteland at http://www.consumerwatchdog.org/golden-wasteland-report