There was visible frustration Tuesday night as about 40 Autumnwood residents claimed public officials are moving too slowly on an investigation into whether their Wildomar neighborhood is a toxic hazard.
Many Autumnwood residents lashed out at officials who were on hand representing South Coast Air Quality Management District, Department of Toxic Substances Control, Riverside County Department of Public Health and the city during a two-hour workshop at Wildomar Elementary School.
“People are sick and dying. You should be investigating where these chemicals come from,” said Autumnwood homeowner Xonia Villanueva, who is leading the charge to find answers.
Tuesday’s workshop was coordinated by the city of Wildomar.
Despite repeated requests throughout the evening by Autumnwood residents for the DTSC to conduct testing for toxic substances in their neighborhood, officials from the state agency insisted there is not yet enough evidence to warrant the analysis.
“But it’s DTSC’s job to investigate,” Villanueva said. “We can’t even live in our homes.”
Villanueva and many of the other Autumnwood residents contend their community near Wildomar Elementary was built atop toxic fill dirt brought in from Lake Elsinore. They claim the soil may be contaminated with a variety of chemicals including unsafe levels of chlorinated and petroleum-based volatile organic compounds.
DTSC Branch Chief John Scandura was skeptical.
“We’re not seeing anything at this point,” he said, referring to independent test results provided by Swanson Law Firm, which is representing several Autumnwood residents who claim their homes are making them sick.
Residents insist the findings warrant further testing by the state agency.
Scandura held his ground.
“We have no reason to believe the data is invalid,” he said of the independent findings, explaining that the results did not set off alarm bells at the state agency.
At the request of Wildomar Mayor Ben Benoit, South Coast Air Quality Management District will conduct air testing in the neighborhood to look for chemicals that may be permeating up from the soil.
Benoit sits on the agency’s board.
SCAQMD Assistant Deputy Executive Officer Jill Whynot said even though her agency has agreed to test in Autumnwood, the independent findings were generally consistent with what one might expect to see in any neighborhood.
According to Whynot, her agency will conduct indoor and outdoor air testing at three Autumnwood homes this week or next, weather permitting. If the testing goes as scheduled, results would be returned within two to three weeks, she said.
Scandura told Patch that DTSC will test soil in Autumnwood if the SCAQMD findings warrant it, but he did not specify what threshold would first need to be met.
In the meantime, some Autumnwood residents expressed a feeling of hopelessness.
Villanueva said she and her family were forced to leave their residence in June 2011 after suffering repeated unexplained illnesses. They still own their Wildomar home, but say they can’t move back in without answers.
Other families have left the neighborhood as well, according to Villanueva, but none of the homes have been red-tagged by the city.
In August, Fatima Ciccarelli, a young mother and military wife who lived in Autumnwood died unexpectedly. Autopsy results are pending, but Thomas Ciccarelli is concerned his wife’s sudden passing could be linked to toxic substances. She died within a week of becoming sick with what was believed to be a cold, he said.
Several Autumnwood residents present Tuesday complained of maladies ranging from respiratory and gastrointestinal problems, to skin ailments and tumors.
County health officials were present Tuesday night, and spokesman Jose Arballo said the health department has received several calls from residents about concerns in Autumnwood. Despite requests, however, Arballo said none of the residents have yet forwarded medical records to the county for review.
County health officer Dr. Cameron Kaiser reminded residents Tuesday that without the historical data his hands are tied.
Villanueva told Patch, “I don’t think this is the appropriate time to send the records,” explaining she would be willing to have her family’s personal files forwarded if the DTSC tests were complete.
“It’s a just a way to control us,” she said of the medical records requests.