As we’ve previously reported earlier this month, Thermal has been dealing with a series of recurring mulch pile fires at a recycling facility that are burning near three schools. The fires are causing air quality concerns for parents and students.
Friday, Congressman Dr. Raul Ruiz announced he is calling for an investigation into these mulch fires.
“I am very concerned that the repeated occurrences of mulch burning at the waste sites are emitting potentially toxic smoke that children breathe at nearby schools,” Ruiz said. “I am calling for a thorough investigation by local, state, and federal agencies to get answers to protect the health of children exposed to that smoke.”
Piles of mulch have been burning at Sun Valley Recycling Center off Avenue 66 on the Torres Martinez Indian Reservation. Las Palmitas Elementary School, Toro Canyon Middle School, and Desert Mirage High School are just up the street from the center.
Torres Martinez Desert Cahuilla Indians Tribal Council Chairman Thomas Tortez, Jr. said the tribe has been trying to shut down the recycling facility, but the owner was unresponsive.
“If they can’t take care of the fires, which, evidently they can’t, then we need to protect the children, and we need them protected as soon as possible,” Tortez said.
The Environmental Protection Agency says illegal dumping of waste in tribal land has been a problem for nearly three decades. Back in 2006, the EPA ordered a dumpsite to cease all activities and issued a $42 million fine to pay for the environmental cleanup and a $2 million civil penalty for illegal activity.
The EPA shut down another facility in 2011 for disposing of toxic waste near Saul Martinez Elementary School. This was discovered after students and teachers complained of illness due to exposure of fumes from the site.
Ruiz toured the burned areas in Thermal earlier this year. He says he is calling on the EPA The Bureau of Indian Affairs, and the Torres Martinez tribe to take immediate steps to put an end to this public health hazard.
Stay with News Channel 3 for updates.