Information Resource Guide
California Environmental Protection Agency, Department of Toxic Substances Control. (2012). Evaluation Survey: Western Environmental, Inc. 62-150 Gene Welmas Drive, Mecca, California 92254. Retrieved from http://www.dtsc.ca.gov/upload/WEI_EvaluationSurveyReport_20120502.pdf
- The report compiles several conclusions, recommendations, and files gathered from a DTS visit to WEI in 2011.
- The report includes 19 recommendations (p. 12-17) for WEI.
- Photographs of the facility can be found under Appendix B.
California Environmental Protection Agency, Department of Toxic Substances Control. (2012). Executive Summary—Evaluation Survey: Western Environmental, Inc. 62-150 Gene Welmas Drive, Mecca, California 92254. Retrieved from http://www.dtsc.ca.gov/upload/WEI_ExecutiveSummaryEvaluationSurvey_20120502.pdf
- The executive summary briefly details the results from the WEI evaluation survey, and concludes that the facility does not meet California hazardous waste requirements “in a number of significant areas.”
- A more detailed account of the report can be found under the Evaluation Survey.
Danelski, D. (2012, January 17). Mecca: Tribe agrees to air quality rules. The Press Enterprise (Riverside, CA). Retrieved from http://www.pe.com/local-news/topics/topics-environment-headlines/20120117-mecca-tribe-agrees-to-air-quality-rules.ece
- This article deals with the Cabazon tribe agreeing to comply with the SCAQMD’s 39 air quality rules following several complaints from the community.
- Luis Olmedo from Comite Civico Del Valle points out that the agreement fails to affect facilities that are more than 50% owned by the tribe or Colmac Energy Inc, another plant on the Cabazon Tribe site in question.
Fox News, Latino. (2011, February 16). Foul, Grassy Odor in Mecca, California, May Be Sickening Residents. Retrieved from http://latino.foxnews.com/latino/health/2011/02/16/mystery-odor-mecca-california-sickening-residents/
- This article was published 2 months after the reported illnesses occurred at Saul Martinez Elementary School, which continue to be problem.
- The EPA was not convinced the blame fell entirely on the recycling plant.
Honoré, M. (2012, March 25). Mecca’s Misery, Chapter 5: Neighbors feel trapped. The Desert Sun. Retrieved from http://www.mydesert.com/article/20120325/NEWS07/203240353/Mecca-smell-odor-misery-neighbors-trapped-unbearable-Desert-Sun-investigation-iSun
- The Desert Sun compiled the total number of smell complaints received by the South Coast Air Quality Management District between December 2010 and June 2011. The final total is 228. A table of the complaints can be found at http://cmsimg.gdn.mydesert.com
- Neighboring communities report feeling “trapped” by the odors, which at times prevent them from opening windows and going outside. Some have complained to WEI, but employees would blame nearby agricultural fields.
- The other company residing on the same plot of tribal land, Colmac Energy, fears WEI’s work might hurt their business. Unlike WEI, Colmac signed an air quality monitoring and enforcement agreement with AQMD, the Cabazon tribe, Riverside County and the Coachella Valley Association of Governments prior to starting operations. Colmac brought concerns to the tribe, but nothing has been done.
Honoré, M. (2012, March 25). Mecca’s Misery: ‘Unbearable Stench’ overwhelms desert town. The Desert Sun. Retrieved from http://www.mydesert.com/article/20120325/NEWS07/203240345/-UNBEARABLE-STENCH
- The Desert Sun staff conducted its own investigation into Western Environmental and reports the following:
- Western has denied being the source of the smells reported by the surrounding community.
- Western accepted the majority of its sewage between 2010 and 2011, “the same period that the smells reported by neighbors intensified.” Former workers say the plant took in “so much material it was impossible to treat it all.
- Former workers report becoming sick after working at the plant, and accidentally tearing the plastic lining beneath the plant, allowing chemicals to seep into the ground.
Honoré, M. (2012, March 25). Mecca’s Misery, Chapter 3: Western Environmental Inc. The Desert Sun. Retrieved from http://www.mydesert.com/article/20120325/NEWS07/203240347
- Public records show that the DTSC's criminal division opened an investigation into Western's operation in December 2004, which ended in January 2010 with no action taken.
- EPA officials have done unannounced inspections of WEI but have not found any violations of federal law or the tribal permit.
- Western has largely benefited from being on tribal lands; it has avoided the permitting process and inspections, avoided paying state waste disposal fees, licensing fees, or property taxes.
- Western’s facility is suspected of being significantly cheaper than other facilities; “By choosing Western over the Kettleman Hills and Buttonwillow landfills, LAUSD saved nearly $1.9 million.”
Honoré, M. (2012, March 25). Mecca’s Misery, Chapter 4: Western Environmental Workers. The Desert Sun. Retrieved from http://www.mydesert.com/article/20120325/NEWS07/203240352/Mecca-smell-odor-misery-Western-Environmental-workers-headaches-Desert-Sun-investigation-iSun
- Former workers of the plant report suffering from nausea, headaches, vomiting, diarrhea, and other symptoms from the waste fumes.
- The former workers claim they were poorly protected from the waste they were managing. At Kettleman Hills, another waste site, all hazardous waste transporters must wear coveralls, some type of respirator, gloves, goggles and glasses, steel toe boots and a hard hat, according to Waste Management's policies.
- Using a Google satellite image from 2009, former workers indicate waste piles and estimate their height. The image can be found at http://cmsimg.gdn.mydesert.com
Honoré, M. (2012, March 26). Soil report due in April for Western Environmental hazard treatment plant in Mecca. The Desert Sun. Retrieved from http://www.mydesert.com/article/20120326/NEWS08/203260327/Soil-report-due-next-month-Mecca-plant
- An “exploratory survey” of the plant could determine if Western continues operations in Mecca; increased environmental standards might prove to be too costly to continue operations.
- The report might call for more stringent environmental standards, including a protecting groundwater with a double polythyline liner, and more wells to monitor groundwater.
- Mark Patton, a Western consultant, doesn’t believe the plants will be asked to add an extra liner layer because it's a “hazardous waste treatment facility, and not a permanent landfill,” although, according to Department of Toxic Substances Control (DTSC) officials, a double liner has been a California standard for 25 years.
South Coast Air Quality Management District. (2011, April 1). Odor Investigation and Air Sampling in Mecca, CA. Retrieved from http://www.aqmd.gov/tao/Mecca/MeccaOdorStudy.htm
- “The AQMD has identified Western Environmental, Inc. and their co-owned adjacent facility, Waste Reduction Technologies, as the primary source of the odors.”
- “There have been no elevated levels of toxic pollutants detected in the community. However, there are still known health impacts resulting from exposure to strong and objectionable odors, and the AQMD takes these health impacts seriously.”
Azevedo, K.J. (2000). Health Care Access Among California Farmworker Households in the Desert Southwest, Doctoral Dissertation, University of California, Irvine, Prof. Arthur J. Rubel, Chair, ix + 227 pp.
- Dr. Azevedo is a medical anthropologist whose dissertation research comprised lengthy residence and field research in the East Coachella Valley. Her thesis reports on risks to health status and access to care among full-time farmworker households in Mecca, California. Interviews were conducted among members of 130 households during the two-and-one-half year period from February 1997 through June 1999.
- Dr. Du Bry examines economic development in the East Coachella Valley through the family histories of Mexican immigrant farmworker families. His thesis reports findings based on several years of field research in Mecca, California.
- From his work he draws conclusions about some of the occupations available to the farming community in Coachella.
Guevara, E. (2012, May 23). Community View: mecca deserves real answers and actions from western environmental. Coachella Unincorporated. Retrieved from http://coachellaunincorporated.org/2012/05/23/community-view-eduardo-guevara/
- The author, Eduardo Guevara, asserts a general distrust of WEI’s activities.
- His main criticism is the lack of transparency in WEI’s activities due to the fact that they operate on sovereign land. Guevara believes WEI has “taken advantage of loopholes in legislation.”
Honoré, M. (2012, March 25). Mecca’s Misery, Chapter 1: Saul Martinez Elementary School. The Desert Sun. Retrieved from http://www.mydesert.com/article/20120325/NEWS07/203240346/Mecca-smell-odor-misery-Saul-Martinez-Elementary-School-Desert-Sun-investigation-iSun
- Five years after the opening of Saul Martinez in 1998, Western began its operations two miles northwest of the school.
- In December 2011, strong, foul odors prompted school officials to call the fire department, and evacuate 100 students on December 11th.
- On December 15th, several students and faculty members became sick from the odor. Shortly after noon the school went on lockdown; fire crews speculated the odor was coming from the Western facility.
Honoré, M. (2012, March 25). Mecca’s Misery, Chapter 6: Smell returns after winter break. The Desert Sun. Retrieved from http://www.mydesert.com/article/20120325/NEWS07/203240354/Mecca-smell-odor-returns-misery-school-winter-break-Desert-Sun-investigation-iSun
- AQMD asked teachers and school faculty at Saul Martinez to take smell samples; the school principal was advised to buy a weather kit to record temperature, wind, barometric pressure and other conditions.
- Some teachers have left Saul Martinez due to the odor conditions.
Honoré, M. (2012, May 17). Residents slam state's Mecca report. The Desert Sun. Retrieved from http://www.mydesert.com/article/20120518/NEWS01/205180306/Residents-slam-state-s-Mecca-report?odyssey=tab|topnews|text|Frontpage
- Some Mecca residents remain wary of WEI’s presence in the community even though a recent EPA DTSC report showed that soil taken from the facility came back as nonhazardous and no direct health impacts have been traced back to the facility.
- Several residents report several health problems, such as stomachaches and bodily pains, around the time WEI received record-numbers of waste into their facility.
- DTSC has yet to test WEI soil samples for dioxins.
California State Democratic Caucus. (2012). Assembly Member V. Manuel Perez, Mecca Health and Safety. Retrieved from http://www.asmdc.org/members/a80/mecca?layout=item
- On his website, Assembly Member Perez lists several letters, videos, press releases, and articles, documenting his activities surrounding health and environmental safety in Mecca.
- The material listed generally regards the incident at Saul Martinez Elementary; it documents the experiences of the people affected, as well as his efforts to resolve odor concerns.
Osborn, S.N. (2011). Eastern Riverside County Community Health Monitor Executive Summary for Children 0 to 5 and 6 to 17 for First 5 Riverside. Health Assessment Resource Center. Retrieved from http://www.harcdata.org/pdfs/ExecutiveSummaryforChildren05and617SpecialReport132012.pdf
- This summary looks at data from the 2012 Community Health Monitor report on children 0-5 and 6-17 for Riverside County; areas surveyed include Coachella, India, Mecca/North Shore, and Thermal, among others.
- Topics covered include: health access, health optimization, oral health, mental health, asthma, nutrition, and physical activity.
Villarejo, D. & Schenker, M. (2006). Environmental Health Policy and California’s Farm Labor Housing. Retrieved from http://agcenter.ucdavis.edu/Announce/Documents/Env_Health_Pol.pdf
- The report looks at data from the California Agricultural Worker Health Survey (CAWHS), looking at the increase in migrant workers in several regions throughout California, including Mecca, a city in the Coachella Valley, and the housing conditions in each area. Conditions are assessed by the type of dwelling workers reside in, occupants per dwelling, median income, and rental rate.
- The report calls for more uniform standards in addressing housing health in the state of California. At the end of the report 9 policy recommendations are given which highlight the need for research and government intervention.
Honoré. M. (2012, March 25). Proud, self-reliant Mecca ‘a very unified community.’ The Desert Sun. Retrieved from http://www.mydesert.com/article/20120325/NEWS07/203240350/Proud-self-reliant-Mecca-very-united-community-
- Mecca has seen a recent population growth as well as civic improvements, such as “new sidewalks, a Boys & Girls Club, a new public library, a health clinic and a sheriff's station.”
- The city is inhabited by 8,500 residents; the median household income is $26,200 (state is $60,883).
- Mecca was the first stop on the old Bradshaw Trail, which was the first road to connect Riverside County to the Colorado River.
- Many residents trace their family roots in the city back to the 1950’s; many Mexican residents came to California as a part of the Bracero Program.
Hard to Count Census Tracts- Families Below Poverty Level: Riverside County Supervisorial District 4 [Topological map]. (2009). Retrieved from The California Endowment.
- The map illustrates census tracts with families below poverty level in the county and also provides four detail maps of denser populated areas, like Indio and Mecca.
Healthy City. (2009). Coachella [Topographical map]. The California Endowment. Retrieved from http://www.calendow.org/healthycommunities/pdfs/Coachella_111011.pdf
- A map of the Coachella region that includes roads, streets, parks and the Salton Sea. It also outlines Thermal and Mecca on the map.
Honoré, M. (2012, March 25). Mecca’s Misery, Chapter 2: Cabazon Band of Mission Indians. The Desert Sun. Retrieved from http://www.mydesert.com/article/20120325/NEWS07/203240347/Mecca-smell-odor-misery-Western-Environmental-operation-Desert-Sun-investigation-iSun
- The tribe and its chairman, David Roosevelt, report being taken off-guard by the community’s accusations regarding the tribe’s waste treatment facility and its practices.
- Roosevelt is not convinced Western was the source of the odors after the tribe shut down the plant’s soy-whey and oil-separation ponds in February 2011.
- An east valley environmental justice task force invited the tribe to attend its monthly meetings, but Roosevelt declined.
- Roosevelt wants the public to know the tribe does not seek to hide behind its sovereignty.
- The tribe employs three members for its environmental department, which Roosevelt considers is sufficient.
- In 2005, the tribe had just wrapped up a $145 million Fantasy Springs expansion, but the casino wasn't making the money needed to support operations; at least 40 employees were laid off. Some speculate this event might have detracted attention to environmental regulations at the waste treatment plant, although Roosevelt said that at the time “there was no reason to think anything was amiss at the recovery park.”
Saldivar, A. (2012, May 4). Children Lay Foundation for Community Garden at Mecca Trailer Park. Coachella Unincorporated. Retrieved from http://coachellaunincorporated.org/2012/05/04/children-lay-foundation-for-community-garden/
- Kounkuey Design Initiative and Pueblo Unido Community Development Corporation are collaborating on a community garden project in Mecca’s St. Anthony’s Trailer Park. KDI details the project on their website http://www.kounkuey.org/SA_PPS.html#
- KDI has partnered with the University of California, Davis extension program in Riverside County to provide Nutrition Education classes to residents.
- The project aims to provide residents with a safe recreation area for adults and children, engage local youth as community leaders, and provide healthy good options through garden crops.
Honoré, M. (2012, March 25). Mecca’s Misery, Chapter 7: EPA, other agencies step in. The Desert Sun. Retrieved from http://www.mydesert.com/article/20120325/NEWS07/203240355/Mecca-smell-odor-misery-EPA-intervention-DTSC-AQMD-Desert-Sun-investigation-iSun
- “On May 6 2011, after a series of reports in The Desert Sun describing the turmoil in Mecca, U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer wrote a blunt letter to the EPA demanding that the agency act urgently to find and stop the source of the odor. This was followed by a visit by Boxer and Erin Brockovich to Saul Martinez Elementary.”
- The DTSC review could either cause Western to meet new standards, but if the cost of making changes proves to be too high, the company could chose to either close production, or continue to operate.
- Despite the hope the report could bring, residents feel the problem will not be resolved until the plant completely halts production.
Honoré, M. (2011, August 18). Activist Erin Brockovich, Sen. Barbara Boxer praise Mecca students for raising red flags on odor. The Desert Sun. Retrieved from http://www.mydesert.com/article/20110819/NEWS07/110818019/Activist-Erin-Brockovich-Sen-Barbara-Boxer-praise-Mecca-students-raising-red-flags-odor
- Boxer met privately with teachers, administrators, as well as state and federal officials at Saul Martinez Elementary School. It was an opportunity for the senator to praise the EPA after the Republicans called the agency a “meddlesome bureaucracy.” Boxer also praised the students for raising red flags on the issue.