Health hazards similar in San Joaquin, Coachella valleys


http://www.mydesert.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/201111280600/NEWS01/111280303

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 (www.ivanonline.org), 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:http://regionalchange.ucdavis.edu/projects

Reach Desert Sun reporter Marcel Honoré at (760) 778-4649 or atmarcel.honore@thedesertsun.com.

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