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Noxious odor has town of Mecca on edge

January 26, 2011 12:00:00 AM PST
The Environmental Protection Agency is trying to determine the source of a noxious odor in the small desert town of Mecca, Calif. The odor has sickened school teachers and children, and it comes and goes. It surfaced in Mecca, near the Salton Sea in Riverside County, last month. Mecca's residents want answers, and an end to the smell.

What's causing the bad odor is a mystery to practically everyone in Mecca.

The rank odor first appeared last month. But it's not just an inconvenience. There are fears it could be dangerous.

Students and teachers at Saul Martinez Elementary School have been treated for breathing problems and nausea.

"Very light-headed, having a hard time concentrating and thinking. I got real shaky, I was very nauseous," said teacher Richard Reyes.

"It's really concerning because we don't know if our kids might get sick, or even us," said Mecca resident Consuelo Vargas.

But besides health concerns, the other question, where is the stench coming from? There's some thought that it's coming from a recycling center on the Cabazon Indian Reservation, and now the tribe, the EPA, and Riverside County Supervisor John Benoit are looking into it."

"We're working our way through a myriad of difficult intergovernmental issues, but cooperatively at this point, with a goal in mind of just trying to figure out what it is and put an end to it," said Benoit.

In a statement, Cabazon Tribal Chairman David Roosevelt said: "The tribe has a long history of supporting safe, secure, and EPA-compliant technologies at its resource recovery park and is cooperating with the governmental agencies tasked with determining the source of the mysterious odor."

EPA investigators hope to have answers at a community meeting out here next month. For residents, those answers can't come soon enough.