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Mecca residents say smell is making them ill

June 10, 2011 12:00:00 AM PDT
A public hearing will be held next week to discuss a foul smell in Mecca that some residents say is making them sick.

Western Environmental Incorporated says one of the goals of its facility in Mecca is to treat contaminated soil so it can be reused.

But while it sounds like it's something that's good for the environment, the Air Quality Management District (AQMD) says this plant has polluted the air with a foul odor.

In December 2010 a stench sickened students and teachers at a nearby elementary school.

"I got real shaky," said one resident. "I was very nauseous."

Hundreds of complaints were filed with the AQMD. Last month, the plant was cited for violating air quality laws. Onsite Project Manager Mark Patton says they've identified some of the problems.

"Apparently one of the water recycling areas there was an odor detected from that," said Patton.

One of the changes that they made is that they're no longer going to be treating water in a pond. Instead they're retreating some of the water in tanks, and hopefully that cuts down on the odor.

Officials say a soymilk substance was part of the problem, and they'll no longer be using it.

"Unfortunately as it sat and as we were processing it, it started to have an odor associated with it," said Patton.

They've also added a misting system. And the piles of soil that are waiting to be treated have been sprayed down with a chemical agent.

"It basically creates a polymer seal over the soil so that you won't have any dust coming off the soil piles," said Patton.

Senator Barbara Boxer was in town last week and said she expects things to get better. Although, she said that there may be a possibility that there are other sources contributing to the sickening smell in the area.

"The smell is still there, but not as bad," said another resident.

"It's made a difference," said Juanita Zuniga from Mecca Health Clinic. "And it's good you know, a lot of people think that since we're down here in the desert they pay no attention to us, but obviously they did and that's good about it."

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