WILDOMAR: State Senator Seeks Clarity On Deaths

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A state senator is demanding that state environmental officials take action to settle questions about whether chemical contamination can be blamed for the deaths of two Wildomar women and illnesses among others who lived in the same housing tract.

“I ask that you take the necessary steps to rule out toxic chemicals as the cause of the illnesses and deaths,” Sen. Joel Anderson, R- Alpine, said in a Feb. 22 letter to Debbie Raphael, director the state’s Department of Toxic Substances Control.

“I also request a written response detailing your plan, with timelines, to address these issues.”

Anderson represents the state Senate’s 36th District, which includes Wildomar, Murrieta, Temecula and several San Diego County communities.

The letter said that the deaths spurred “complaints and concerns” that the soil beneath 61 homes in the Autumnwood housing tract may be contaminated with toxic chemicals. The housing tract is about a block and a half south of Palomar and Central streets in Wildomar.

The toxic substances agency investigates and oversees the cleanup of toxic sites in California. It also permits and tracts the handling, transport and disposal of toxic wastes in the state.

“We understand how distressed the residents feel,” Charlotte Fadipe, a spokeswoman for the agency, said Tuesday. “We have contacted the office of Senator Joel Anderson and look forward to working with him to address his concerns.”

Department officials have previously said they reviewed soil and air tests commissioned by an attorney representing a group of residents and similar tests on three properties done by the South Coast Air Quality Management District. These results, they said, showed contamination levels too low to merit further investigation and were unlikely to cause illness.

Several families have blamed their homes for an array of illnesses, and at least four have abandoned their houses, which were built during the housing boom in 2005 and 2006. They have described headaches, rashes, nosebleeds, breathing difficulties, flu, sinus infections, pneumonia and gastrointestinal problems, among other ailments.

Two residents of the neighborhood, both women in their 30s, have died.

The Riverside County coroner’s office concluded that the most recent death, in August, was from naturally occurring pneumonia. Lab tests determined that the body of Fatima Atencio, 36, contained elevated levels of barium, but coroner's officials told her husband, Thomas Ciccarelli, that the barium wasn’t a factor in her death.

Ciccarelli said Tuesday that he doubted Anderson’s letter would make a difference because it is one of several recent calls for the state toxic substances agency to get more involved.

Riverside County Supervisor Kevin Jeffries and, just last week, the advocacy group Consumer Watchdog have pushed the department to investigate the tract for chemical contamination.

“(The DTSC) knows people are getting sick, and they still aren’t doing anything,” Ciccarelli said.

The other death was that of Cynthia Turner, 34, who passed away in 2008 after she came down with pneumonia, said her mother, Barbara Davenport, when interviewed last fall. The cause of death was not clear. She was still on medication for breast cancer that had been diagnosed in 1999.

Davenport said Tuesday she did not want to see a state probe of her daughter’s death.

“I don’t want them to pull Cynthia into this,” Davenport said.

Follow David Danelski on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/DanelskiReports and Twitter @DavidDanelski

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