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Congressman Raul Ruiz

Representing the 36th District of California

Congressman Ruiz Announces Pending Closure of Thermal Mulch Fire Site

October 16, 2019
Press Release
Smoke from Fires at Facility Pose a Public Health Risk to Nearby Schools and Surrounding Community

Thermal, Ca. – Today, Congressman Raul Ruiz, M.D. announced the pending closure of Sun Valley Recycling Center, the facility at the center of recurring mulch fires that are posing a public health hazard to nearby schools and the surrounding community. The Bureau of Indian Affairs issued a Cease and Desist order to the facility Wednesday morning stating that if the dumping operations are not immediately halted, the owner will face an injunction and be held liable for damages and all costs associated with enforcement action.

‪“It’s past time the public health hazard posed by the facility is shut down for good,” Dr. Ruiz said. “I want to commend the students at Desert Mirage High School, whose stories and advocacy played a pivotal role in ensuring students’ health is no longer put at risk. We must now work towards the next steps of cleaning up the land and preventing this from ever occurring in our community again. I look forward to working with Chairman Tortez, Supervisor Perez, the BIA, EPA, state officials, students, and the community to put an end to these environmental injustices once and for all.”

The announcement comes immediately after Dr. Ruiz convened representatives from the Environmental Protection Agency, the Bureau of Indian Affairs, the Torres Martinez Desert Cahuilla Indians, County Supervisor V. Manuel Perez, and other county and state officials and called for immediate action to stop the environmental hazard risk emanating from recurring mulch fires on tribal-allotted land privately owned by Vincent Ibanez within the Torres Martinez Desert Cahuilla Indians reservation.

 

Background:

During a fire on the site in May, Dr. Ruiz toured the burned areas at the Sun Valley Recycling Center in Thermal.

In mid-September, local students from Desert Mirage High School called attention to mulch fires at a nearby waste facility.

On September 27, Dr. Ruiz called for an investigation by local, state, and federal agency officials into the situation.

On October 1, Dr. Ruiz met with community groups and students from the nearby schools and listened to repeated testimonials from those affected by the smoke from the fires. Students shared how they had headaches, allergic reactions, “burning in their lungs”, and difficulty breathing.

On October 9, Dr. Ruiz convened an inter-agency meeting with Chairman Tortez of the Torres Martinez Desert Cahuilla Indians, Supervisor V. Manual Perez, officials from the Bureau of Indian Affairs, the Environmental Protection Agency, the office of Assemblyman Eduardo Garcia, CalFIRE, and other state and local officials. The purpose of the meeting was to establish an immediate plan of action to close the site, clean the land, and prevent the situation from arising again.

On October 15, students wrote to Dr. Ruiz and the Coachella Valley Unified School District Board Members detailing new accounts of coughing, headaches, and burning while breathing as smoke from the most recent mulch fire overwhelmed the surrounding air. The newest fire was more than 40 acres in size and photographs indicated that industrial waste and home appliances were among the burning items.

On October 16, less than three weeks after the launch of Dr. Ruiz’s investigation, the BIA issued a Cease and Desist order to permanently close the facility.

According to the BIA letter, if the dumping operation does not immediately cease and desist, the BIA will pursue an injunction and compensation for all enforcement costs and damages including the cost of equipment removal, as well as other trespass damages available by law.

If it is determined that the activity has resulted in damages, the BIA will request an appraisal of the damages/penalties, and issue a bill for collection pursuant to 25 CFR § 166.812.

Sun Valley Recycling is located on the same plots of land as “Mt. San Diego” the infamous dump site that was closed in 1994 after years of enforcement efforts by the federal government.