MECCA (CBS) — California Sen. Barbara Boxer will be making a personal visit Thursday to a Mecca school where offensive fumes have repeatedly sickened students and staff.

Boxer, who chairs the Senate Environment & Public Works Committee, called on federal regulators earlier this month to take whatever steps necessary to identify and prevent noxious fumes from polluting the air around Saul Martinez Elementary School.

An investigation by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the South Coast Air Quality Management District isolated the stench to a waste processing facility run by Western Environmental Inc.

The company has declined to comment.

During her visit, Boxer will be holding a closed-door “listening session” with representatives from the EPA, AQMD, school administrators, teachers and parents. Activist Erin Brockovich will be there, too.

Last fall, more than a dozen people from Saul Martinez Elementary were so nauseated by a rotten odor they were taken to a hospital for treatment.

Recess breaks at the school are now limited because of the stench, which has generated more than 200 complaints to the AQMD.

The agency announced on May 13 that a citation had been issued against Western Environmental for alleged violations of the California Health & Safety Code.

AQMD Executive Director Barry Wallerstein said the recycling plant, which handles soils contaminated by petroleum products and other chemicals, had been “the source of chronic odor problems for months.”

Just prior to the AQMD’s citation, the EPA issued an administrative order barring Western Environmental from accepting biosolids without the agency’s approval and to cover piles of untreated waste.

The administrative decree specifies that the company and an affiliated firm, Waste Reduction Technologies, must deploy agents that dilute the stench or use sheeting to prevent emissions.

Regulators are working on mitigation measures with the Cabazon Band of Mission Indians, on whose reservation the plant is located.

The tribe’s chairman, David Roosevelt, has said the recycling plant is providing a public benefit by turning bad soil into good.

(©2011 CBS Local Media, a division of CBS Radio Inc. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. Wire services contributed to this report.)


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