COACHELLA, Calif. (AP) — It's the Mecca everyone wants to make a pilgrimage away from.
Complaints of foul odors sickening residents of the California desert community of Mecca have prompted a smog control agency to step up an air monitoring effort on Thursday.
The South Coast Air Quality Management District said it has concluded that a waste recycling facility just north of Mecca is the source of the stinky fumes. The agency said it is taking daily air sampling at two elementary schools and the recycling facility to determine whether the chemicals measured will pose any long-term health risk to residents.
"We are taking these complaints from residents very seriously," Riverside County Supervisor John J. Benoit, who also serves on the AQMD board, said in a statement.
The recycling plant, which is on tribal land and is operated by Western Environmental Inc., treats petroleum-contaminated soils that are trucked to Mecca from throughout Southern California. Western Environmental uses special strains of bacteria and heating methods to remove hydrocarbons from big piles of dirt at the site; once treated the soil is re-used as landfill cover and landscaping material.
The Riverside Press-Enterprise reported that in December, the stink caused children at Saul Martinez Elementary School to vomit and teachers were overcome with nausea. The school principal said outdoor classes and activities were curtailed because of the smell.
Mark Patton, a project manager at the plant, told the newspaper the said the company tried to reduce odors by shutting down a pond where oils were separated from wastewater.
The AQMD said it is taking air samples near the pond. Once adequate sample results are collected and analyzed, the AQMD said it will present the results to the community.