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Thermal dumping site shut down due to public health hazard

An East Valley recycling facility which has been the center of several hazardous mulch fires in recent months is being shut down, according to a news release issued by the office of Congressman Raul Ruiz.

The Sun Valley Recycling Center sits within the Torres Martinez Desert Cahuilla Indians reservation and is owned by Vincent Ibanez. The Bureau of Indian Affairs issued a Cease and Desist order to the facility Wednesday morning.

If the facility fails to abide by the order, Ibanez will face an injunction and will be held accountable for any damages and costs associated with the enforcement action.

Kevin Carey, owner of the facility, says they have been shut down for nearly two weeks so far..

“We are closed. We have been closed. And we will not open up,” said Kevin Carey, owner of Sun Valley Recycling Center.

The order comes after extensive advocacy work by students and Desert Mirage High School in Thermal, who drew attention to the hazards posed by the fires at the waste facility in mid-September. Ruiz called for an investigation by federal, state, and local officials into the fires on September 27, and met the students on October 1.

“It’s past time the public health hazard posed by the facility is shut down for good,” Dr. Ruiz said via news release. “I want to commend the students at Desert Mirage High School, whose stories and advocacy played a pivotal role in ensuring students’ health is no longer put at risk. We must now work towards the next steps of cleaning up the land and preventing this from ever occurring in our community again. I look forward to working with Chairman Tortez, Supervisor Perez, the BIA, EPA, state officials, students, and the community to put an end to these environmental injustices once and for all.”‬‬‬‬‬‬

Carey told News Channel 3 the facility is not a hazardous waste dump.

“This is not a hazardous waste dump. It never was. Will never be. Never been any plastic pipe, no tires burned here,” Carey said.

News Channel 3’s Shelby Nelson saw tires the smoldering ash on the same stretch of land.

Carey says the fires are caused by arson.

“This is arson that’s set. We don’t have time here to be burning our product burning our profit, really? We don’t do stuff like that,” Carey said.

Two weeks after meeting with Ruiz, the students penned letters to both Ruiz and Coachella Valley Unified School District officials, explaining the health challenges that the fires posed, including, coughing, headaches, and respiratory burning when inhaling the smokey air.

The fires forced the cancelation of outdoor after-school activities for DMHS, but students said that the smoke was so pervasive that it was bleeding into classrooms.

“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 Landon Torres, a sophomore at DMHS.

The center is a green waste facility but many say is also houses an illegal dump.

“Ultimately the property has an illegal dump running on it so the green waste shouldn’t be there in the first place. There should be no fuel on that property to catch on fire,” said Joseph Mirelez, Vice Chairman of the Torres Martinez Desert Cahuilla Indians.

Mario Bautista lives a few streets down. He says he’s fed up not only with the air quality resulting from these fires but the fact that no one has stopped them.​​​​​

“There is people living here. We have the same right. The right as people living in Beverly Hills or Malibu.​​​​,” Bautista said.

Although labeled as mulch fires, Ruiz’s news release mentions that evidence from the blazes showed industrial waste and home appliances being among the burning debris.

At this time, the EPA is investigating to determine what materials are on the property. Officials tell News Channel 3 the EPA will ultimately have the final say.

KESQ

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