Health hazards similar in San Joaquin, Coachella valleys

A new study on the the environmental health risks across Central California describes conditions strikingly similar to those confronting many eastern Coachella Valley residents.

More than 1 million people living in the sprawling San Joaquin Valley face serious health risks from toxic air, polluted water and other environmental factors, according to a University of California, Davis report published earlier this month.

Residents there buy bottled water to avoid the arsenic-tinged water supplies where they live, according to researchers. They’ve also fought expansion of an unpermitted rendering plant, and they pushed to close a hazardous waste facility spreading noxious odors.

Those incidents in the report, called “Land of Risk/Land of Opportunity,” paint a portrait familiar to many in the eastern Coachella Valley.

The report shows that the health risks faced by thousands of residents in hundreds of small mobile home parks stretching from Coachella to the Salton Sea are endemic, statewide problems.

In the east valley, many agriculture and service-sector workers have also bought bottled water to avoid bacteria-contaminated and arsenic-tinged wells at the trailer parks where they live.

Like their San Joaquin Valley counterparts, many east valley residents are counting on public money to eventually help connect their communities to nearby water district pipes.

And in Mecca, students and residents have endured overwhelming, noxious gas-like odors that authorities say stem from the nearby Western Environmental, Inc., which treats contaminated soil.

State regulators acknowledge Western lacked the proper permits to operate, although Western officials dispute they needed that state approval because they operate on tribal land.

The UC Davis report is based on a three-year study that researchers say is the first of its kind for the San Joaquin Valley. Its authors hope regulators, policy makers and community leaders will use it to help resolve the area’s pervasive environmental issues.

No such comprehensive report exists for the eastern Coachella Valley. However, academics and community advocates have taken steps to understand the scope of the environmental health problems in the east valley.

Ryan Sinclair, a Loma Linda University environmental health assistant professor, has spent the past year mapping mobile home parks to assess health risks from wastewater that isn’t properly disposed.

“I’m doing this to demonstrate that there is a wastewater problem out there,” said Sinclair, who grew up in Desert Hot Springs. A team of Loma Linda students assists him on the project.

The Loma Linda map is hosted on a website, the Imperial Visions Action Network (, which collects reports of illegal dumping, burning and other hazards in the east valley and verifies them.

But Sinclair’s mobile home park map is still a work in progress. Sinclair said he’s had less than $10,000 in funding so far to work the project and he intends to finish it as soon as he finds more money.

“Getting out there, getting these parks mapped, you can see how bad the problem is or how minor the problem is,” Sinclair said.

To read the UC Davis report, visit:

Reach Desert Sun reporter Marcel Honoré at (760) 778-4649 or


Land of Risk, Land of Opportunity: Cumulative Environmental Vulnerabilities in California’s San Joaquin Valley

Getting Jumped by Pollution: To read the full report or the executive summary, please visit:

Statement from Rey Leon, Founder and Executive Director of SJV Latino Environmental Advancement Project (Valley LEAP):

Valley LEAP’s economic equity arm, the Regional Green Jobs Coalition, is made up of over 300 allies representing, community, entrepreneurs, labor, non-profits, government and business.  Being consistent with this reports findings, we are striving to develop a region with a new economy that has a moral character and culture to provide a social structure that cares for people first while enhancing the environment and building local high road jobs and economy.

Study after study has shared the story of poverty and vulnerability.  This report helps connect the dots with how pollution is involved and effectively impacts the socio-economic downward spiral that has paralyzed our regions human development.

This is concerning to us because of the consequences entailed to the Latino community which currently represents over 40% of the Valley and is disproportionately impacted by these indicators.  While the region is the fastest growing in the state, the Latino community is the fastest growing community in the region.  Without a doubt, the future of the Latino community is the Future of the Valley, hence, to have a strong and prosperous region we must remedy the issues impacting the Latino Community.

In order to advance the economic development of the region we need to focus on a sustainable green economy that can provide benefits and co-benefits to advancing the social and environmental status of all residents and communities in the region.  These advancements would include localized manufacturing of new technologies to enhance the environment, including air, water and land, while creating jobs, impacting at least 80% of the region.  This would require vocational opportunities to build the skills of farmworkers and others in preparation of high road jobs, educational opportunities for students, and English learning programs for adults.  The goal is to allow employers and employees to effectively participate, together, in diversifying the economy with a new culture of engagement to improve quality of life for all with particular attention to those communities that are most vulnerable.

Apart from the other challenges, siloes are contributing to the downward spiral.  Economic Development must focus to remedy economic inequities where the identified vulnerabilities exist.  Less healthy and less educated people provide for an unstable regional economic foundation.  Innovative and firm regulations to enhance environment paired with creative incentives to stimulate job creation can help green the economy (Green Economic Empowerment Zones) and develop the human potential of our regions greatest resource, the people. Not only will the 51% of the residents in elevated risk and the 31% at extreme risk will benefit immensely of what can result as a response to this reports findings but also farmers, small businesses, entrepreneurs and all air breathers!