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Environmental Advocate Claims DTSC Trying To Make Wildomar Investigation ‘Disappear’

Patch file photo.
Patch file photo.

After testing soil, soil gas and groundwater samples from specific locations within the allegedly toxic housing tract of Autumnwood in Wildomar, officials with California Environmental Protection Agency’s Department of Toxic Substances Control announced preliminary findings this week that claim the neighborhood is safe.

But the release of that data has drawn sharp criticism from some.

Penny Newman of the Center for Community Action and Environmental Justice, a non-profit organization that advocates for citizens impacted by environmental hazards, said this week, “The rush to publicize the preliminary results appears to be driven by a Senate investigation into irregularities within DTSC as outlined in a scathing report called 'Golden Wasteland' by Consumer Watchdog. The Wildomar situation played a prominent role in the report.”

In March, the DTSC director met with Senators and pledged to work with investigators exploring allegations that the agency has not properly enforced state regulations.

“We should have know that DTSC, which is under such intense scrutiny from [a] Senate investigation, would try to get the Wildomar case to disappear and be closed before the Senate report is released,” Newman continued. “We’ve seen this kind of cover up over and over again, but it never is easy to accept.” 

Newman argues the preliminary findings should not have been released, and said instead the DTSC should have waited until it had a final report to issue.

A meeting is planned for January with local residents and for a multi-agency task force to tour the Autumwood neighborhood. At that time, all concerned about the issue are scheduled to meet and discuss the test results and give comments. 

Newman argues that until then, the findings are not final and are only "speculative."

This week’s preliminary findings from the DTSC come from testing of samples gathered last month in Autumnwood by environmental contractor AMEC Environment and Infrastructure. The company gathered samples from specific locations within the housing tract including areas at Front Street, Pasadena Street, Protea Court, Palomar Street, Amaryllis Court, and Pink Ginger Court. According to DTSC, it oversaw the sample collections.

Testing of the recent samples revealed the following, according to the DTSC:

·       No evidence of soil contamination;

·       Volatile organic contaminants detected in soil gas were consistent with background or ambient levels throughout Southern California;

·       Shallow groundwater was not a source of volatile organic contaminants;

·       Volatile organic contaminants detected in soil gas do not pose a significant indoor air risk or hazard;

·       Per DTSC’s "Vapor Intrusion Guidance," vapor intrusion is not occurring at the Autumnwood development; and

·       Volatile organic contaminants detected in indoor air are not originating from the subsurface.

"While volatile organic contaminants were previously detected in indoor air quality samples at certain homes, our recent investigation indicated that these VOCs are not a result of contaminated soil, soil gas or groundwater beneath the homes in the Autumnwood development," the Dec. 11 DTSC statement read.

The same day that the statement was released, the DTSC met with concerned Autumnwood residents.

“Today's meeting with the DTSC was utterly disappointing,” said Xonia Villanueva, who moved out of Autmnwood after her family allegedly became sick from toxins she claims are throughout the housing tract.

Villanueva said the preliminary report released this week by DTSC is misleading.

“DTSC's results are suspect, and warrant careful scrutiny for many reasons. There is a problem at Autumnwood and it is coming from the exterior of our homes, not inside as the DTSC would like everyone to believe,” Villanueva said. “We'll meet with all the agencies again in January after we've had a chance to review all the data and then we'll discuss where we go from here.”

Lillyann587 December 13, 2013 at 06:17 PM
I would like to know why it is so important to some that the contaminants are coming from "outside" not inside the homes. Is there more benefit to the owners if the contaminants are external and not part of the building materials, carpets, insulation, wall board paint etc.? Isn't the most important thing here is to find where they are coming from, what they are and maybe they can be gotten rid of so people can move back in & live healthy. I just don't see the special advantage to whatever is making everyone sick being on the exterior of the homes, when in most cases people spend the majority of their time home inside their houses. Could someone please explain why the importance of external contaminants vs interior contaminants.
wildomar resident December 13, 2013 at 10:30 PM
Lillyann - have they done any testing in the houses???
Martha L. Bridges December 14, 2013 at 11:12 AM
There are other areas of serious concern about contamination in Wildomar, and both the city planners and the California Environmental Protection Agency’s Department of Toxic Substances Control, needs to look into them to fulfilling their purpose of protecting the public. That is, after all, what we are supposed to be able to expect for the millions of dollars of Taxpayers' money being spent on this agency. __________________________________________________________ As an example, take the old, archaic sewer system at The Farm, which has been spraying sewage waste onto adjacent hills for decades. Yet it has taken a group of concerned citizens to call for testing for contamination and toxicity before developers are allowed to build new homes directly across from those spray fields. It's time for Wildomar's citizens to demand testing and any remedial work that is necessary.
Lillyann587 December 14, 2013 at 03:14 PM
Wildomar resident: I have not read of any testing on the building materials, carpets, carpet pad, drapes, paint, wall boards, insulation, etc.. I do know the wall boards used in some of the FEMA "trailers" (from Katrina) had high levels of formaldehyde in them and the residence became so sick they could not stay in the "trailers" at all. There is a possibility that the builder may have "gotten a good deal" on some materials they used to construct/finish the houses. I still wonder why it is so important to some people that the contaminants come from outside the homes & not from the building materials or why some people feel it is very important that the City be responsible & not the builder or suppliers of building materials & fill dirt etc..
Jake of Autumnwood December 20, 2013 at 02:06 AM
Lillyann587, It's not about why it's important that it's an outside source as opposed to an indoor source. It's about finding out why we have high levels of chemicals such as benzene, toluene and 1,2 dibromoethane, just to name a few of the many chemicals detected, both indoors and outdoors. If the chemical are being detected in the outdoor air and soil, it means there's an outside source. If identical chemicals are detected indoors they must be coming from that outside source...it doesn't work the other way around...it's not moving from an inside source to the outdoor air and soil. I hope that helps clear it up. As for the City, we have never held them responsible for what's going on with our homes, we've only ever asked for their support in finding answers. A request that had fallen on deaf ears and stone cold faces.
wildomar resident December 20, 2013 at 08:56 AM
I don't understand how one jumps from the concerns of Autumnwood to attacking the sewage spray field system used by The Farm but I have learned that many who comment on the Patch seemed to have personal agendas that I can not fathom or follow. The system used by the Farm is tested on a scheduled basis and closely regulated. It is a system and process used across the country and the world. If you google the phrase sewage spray field you can find many articles and studies on it(Iran has done some major studies) and it is a fascinating subject for those of use who are focused on reusing and recycling and conservation. In densely populated areas I can see where it is not going to be as welcome, but the use of reclaimed water in certain circumstances is certainly becoming a more common thing. To me- if a thing is legal(and safe by government standards) and those using it are happy with it than who am I to complain?
wildomar resident December 20, 2013 at 08:59 AM
On the Autumnwood subject if I lived there I would be happy with the news. But I understand what you are saying lilyann and jake. But if the materials in the houses have not been tested could that not be another direction to go in if many of you still have concerns? And Jake since it was built and approved by the county what support from the city are you asking for?

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