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Congressman Raul Ruiz

Representing the 36th District of California

Dr. Ruiz Calls for Action After Reports of Children Breathing Smoke from Waste Fires in Thermal

October 3, 2019
Press Release

Thermal, CA – Today, Dr. Raul Ruiz (CA-36) is calling for an investigation into the recurring mulch pile fires from waste disposal sites in Thermal. The burn piles, which allegedly consist of agricultural waste, tires, and PVC pipes, are emitting white, odorous smoke, and have drawn concerns from the community about the air quality in the area. KESQ reported this month that the burn piles, which span roughly half the size of a football field and are operated by Sun Valley Recycling Center on privately owned land within the Torres-Martinez Desert Cahuilla Indians reservation, are in close proximity to three Coachella Valley Unified District Schools.

“I am very concerned that the repeated occurrences of mulch burning at Sun Valley Recycling Company are emitting potentially toxic smoke that children breathe at nearby schools,” Dr. Ruiz said. “I am calling for a thorough investigation by local, state, and federal agencies to get answers to protect the health of children exposed to that smoke.”

Congressman Ruiz, who toured the burned areas in Thermal earlier this year, is calling on the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), The Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA), and the Torres Martinez Desert Cahuilla Indians tribe, to take immediate steps to put an end to this public health hazard.



According the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) illegal dumping of waste within tribal reservations has been an ongoing problem for nearly three decades.

In 2006, the EPA ordered one dump site to cease all activities. They subsequently issued a $42 million fine to pay for the environmental cleanup and $2 million civil penalty for illegal activity. 

In addition, the LA Times reported that at least 26 illegal dump sites were present on tribal land in 2006.

In 2011, the EPA shut down another facility that was disposing of toxic waste nearby Saul Martinez Elementary School after students and teachers complained of illness due to exposure of fumes from the site. 

The Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) has jurisdiction over ensuring that businesses on tribal lands, including waste disposal, are operating with proper permits.

The EPA has jurisdiction over protecting air quality, protecting communities against pollutants, and oversight of waste disposal sites under the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act.