About 40 Wildomar residents gathered at Wildomar Elementary School Tuesday night to hear state and local officials discuss the results of air and soil samples taken from their Autumnwood neighborhood.
Despite the officials’ insistence that the residents were not convinced.
“There is no fresh air outside of our houses nor inside. I don’t know how any of you can go to sleep at night,” Autumnwood resident Xonia Villanueva told the officials representing the Department of Toxic Substances Control, South Coast Air Quality Management District, County of Riverside Department of Public Health, and the City of Wildomar.
Residents are concerned that, although the results show chemicals generally within normal ranges inside the Autumnwood tract, there is a “chemical cocktail” brewing in their neighborhood and it’s making residents sick.
DTSC spokesman John Scandura said he was not aware of any “synergist effects” resulting from chemicals combining in Autumnwood, and the DTSC’s William Bosan, PhD., concurred, saying the chemists don’t look for substances to mix and become “exotic species.”
Residents have pushed DTSC to conduct its own tests at Autumnwood. To date, all air and soil tests have been conducted by South Coast Air Quality Management District, although DTSC has reviewed the findings. Click here to read the results. Additionally, independent testing has been conducted by consultants hired by a law firm representing some Autumnwood residents.
According to South Coast Air Quality Management District's Jill Whynot, all test findings show chemical levels generally within normal range.
Scandura defended accusations by Villanueva that DTSC works for industry and not the average taxpayer. After running down a litany of examples of uncovering toxic chemicals in neighborhoods throughout the state, he told Villanueva, “we would not hesitate for an instant” if something were there.
Autumnwood resident Thomas Ciccarelli lost his wife last year shortly after she gave birth to their baby. He questions whether she was poisoned by toxic substances in their home. Although the coroner has ruled pneumonia caused Fatima Ciccarelli’s death, questions remain about barium found in her system.
After hearing Mr. Ciccarelli’s pleas, Barry Wallerstein, executive director for South Coast Air Quality Management District, told the Autumnwood man officials would be immediately sent to his home to retrieve additional soil samples. Scandura confirmed that his agency would review the findings, which are expected in about a month.
In the meantime, Ciccarelli said he and his baby have moved out of the Autumnwood tract but he still owns his home there.
"Is it safe for me and my baby to move back in?" Ciccarelli asked the officials.
None would go so far as to say "yes" outright, but instead pointed to the test findings.
"That's a decision you will have to make," Wallerstein said.
Dr. Cameron Kaiser of the County of Riverside Department of Public Health was at Tuesday’s meeting. He pleaded with residents to forward their health records to him so they could be studied for any patterns.
To date, no patient records have been sent, confirmed Jose Arballo Jr., a spokesman for the county’s health department.
Chad Pinkstaff, a resident at nearby Silver Oaks Ranch in Wildomar, told the officials his wife and young children have been suffering the same illnesses that Autumnwood residents have complained of: compromised immune system and gastrointestinal problems. He promised he would forward his family’s health records.
Questions also arose Tuesday night about fill dirt that was used at the Autumnwood construction site during the early 2000s. Scandura contends that, based on records, the fill dirt at Autumnwood was uncontaminated “native soil.” He admitted records show trash and other debris were mixed in, but he maintained the records show no contamination.
Despite what might be found on further soil samples pulled from the Ciccarelli home, the residents are not giving up the fight.
“This is not the end,” Villanueva said.
Tuesday's meeting marked the second in recent months in which state and local officials converged at Wildomar Elementary School to discuss the situation at Autumnwood. Click here to read about the first meeting.