SANTA MONICA (CBSLA.com) — California state toxics regulators and other officials allegedly doctored data in a preliminary investigation of a Wildomar housing complex to avoid pinpointing the source of an apparent health threat and any ensuing cleanup, according to a report released Tuesday.
The report from Consumer Watchdog alleges officials the Department of Toxic Substances Control (DTSC) and other regulators ignored high concentrations of toxins and refused to continue investigating to find the source of toxins poisoning residents at the Autumnwood complex.
Several families were forced to abandon their homes and move after deaths in the complex and illnesses among residents from chemically induced pneumonia to lupus, according to the “American Dream or Toxic Nightmare” (PDF) report.
Environmental advocate Penny Newman along with Wildomar residents prepared the report in response to the draft results of a DTSC investigation (PDF) that found “no evidence” of soil contamination or chemicals below the housing tract.
But according to Newman, both independent and DTSC testing showed hundreds of toxic chemicals at the Autumnwood property, including chlorinated hydrocarbons, petrochemicals, metals, and pesticides. Testing also showed chemicals detected in the groundwater, soil, and soil gas were found in concentrations up to 1,000 times higher than in homes, Newman said.
“The situation that Wildomar residents find themselves in is a result of bureaucratic bumbling, disingenuous lip service, and a massive cover-up,” said Newman in a statement.
The report cited several possible causes for the pollution: illegal dumping of toxic soil and other debris from underground gas station storage tank cleanups and an illegal auto dismantling yard; contaminated soil used to level the complex prior to construction that was brought in from a wastewater treatment plant; and crossed water lines that could be feeding non-potable recycled water to the community.
Nearly one-third of Autumnwood’s 60 homeowners sought legal representation last year after complaining of pneumonia-like symptoms, including swelling tongue and lips, nosebleeds, and sore throat.
KNX 1070’s Megan Goldsby reports U.S. Marine Tommy Chicoreely is among those residents calling for action after he lost his wife Fatima less than two years ago following their birth of their daughter.
“I walked in holding her hand and I walked out holding the bag of clothes she died in,” Chicoreely said. “They said it was pneumonia, but we think it was more than that.”
In response to the findings, DTSC spokesperson Russ Edmondson said the agency would “carefully review” the report and release a final report of the agency’s investigation “shortly.”