A federal agency Wednesday ordered an immediate halt to dumping operations at the Sun Valley Recycling Center in Thermal due to recurring mulch fires that officials said are posing a public health hazard to nearby schools and the surrounding community.
The latest mulch fire at the dumping site, located on tribal land within the Torres Martinez Desert Cahuilla Indian reservation broke out Monday near 66th Avenue and Martinez Road and burned more than 40 acres.
Rep. Raul Ruiz, D-Palm Desert, said the Bureau of Indian Affairs issued a cease-and-desist order Wednesday 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.
He said students at Desert Mirage High School have been integral in calling attention to the mulch fires. In letters to Ruiz, who is a licensed physician, and Coachella Valley Unified School District board members, they described the adverse effects caused by the smoke, including coughing, headaches and burning in their lungs, the congressman said.
“It’s past time the public health hazard posed by the facility is shut down for good,” 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 toward the next steps of cleaning up the land and preventing this from ever occurring in our community again.”
Ruiz said he toured burned areas at the recycling center during a May blaze and on Sept. 27 called for an investigation by local, state and federal agencies into the mulch fires. On Oct. 1, the lawmaker met with community groups and students from nearby schools who discussed their health concerns.
Last Wednesday, Ruiz convened a meeting with the chairman of the Torres Martinez Desert Cahuilla Indians, county Supervisor V. Manual Perez, officials from the Bureau of Indian Affairs, EPA, office of Assemblyman Eduardo Garcia and Cal Fire to establish an immediate plan of action to close and clean up the site.
Sun Valley Recycling is located on the same plots of land as “Mt. San Diego,” a dump site that was closed in 1994 after years of enforcement efforts by the federal government, according to Ruiz’s office.
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