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Mulch fires prompt investigation into alleged recycling center cover-up of possible hazardous waste

THERMAL, Calif – A series of recent mulch fires on the Torres-Martinez Desert Cahuilla Reservation is prompting a call to action over health concerns.

Local Congressman, Doctor Raul Ruiz, met with families and school officials today at Desert Mirage High School in Thermal over concerns about the contaminated air they’re breathing.

Landon Torres, who is a sophomore, says he’s felt the effects of the smoke.

“I would be in class and everything would be good and then I’d come out of class and it would just be smokey and I would just start coughing. I would go into my other class and I would get a headache,” said Torres.

He also says the school has brought students in from outside to escape the unhealthy air quality. In some cases, schools had to shut down because of how bad it became.

Thomas Tortez, Chairman of the Torres-Martinez Desert Cahuilla Indians, says the fires are happening on one man’s private land within the reservation.

“5 years ago, he reactivated this green waste recycling facility,” said Tortez.

It’s called the Sun Valley Recycling Center, which is located off Avenue 66 in Thermal. Tortez thinks it’s just a cover-up.

“There are tires back there. There’s PVC pipes. There’s asbestos from construction,” said Tortez.

Meanwhile, Congressman Ruiz is calling for an investigation with the Bureau of Indian Affairs and the Environmental Protection Agency.

“The tribe is trying to work with the BIA to get that landowner in compliance and to prevent this from happening,” Dr Ruiz said.

Dr. Ruiz says the BIA has jurisdiction over the land and can determine if the landowner is adhering to environmental policies. He says the investigation can in fact determine if the recycling center contains hazardous waste as well.

Depending on what investigators find, there is a chance the center can shut down. Dr. Ruiz says he hopes to see immediate action within the next week.

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KESQ News Team

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