Western Environmental Incorporated (WEI) is located in Mecca, on tribal land owned by the Cabazon Band of Mission Indians (CBMI) . WEI is a contaminated soil recovery and recycling facility that accepts and processes petroleum and pesticide contaminated soils as well as soil containing lead and other heavy metals. They also accept and treat liquid oil/water waste, drilling muds and other petroleum containing liquid waste materials from various operations . WEI returns to productive use materials which would have otherwise been disposed of in a landfill as solid waste .See more...
WEI is permitted by CBMI to treat non-hazardous waste as federally defined . Since the permit issued by CBMI prohibits only RCRA hazardous waste, California hazardous wastes were accepted by WEI until recently and were referred to as “non-RCRA hazardous waste.” According to WEI personnel, non-RCRA hazardous waste (i.e., California-only hazardous waste) makes up 20% of the total waste received by the WEI facility. The remaining 80% of the waste received is non-hazardous by Federal and California standards and is referred to by WEI as “non-hazardous waste” .
The facility is about 20 acres in size. Mecca is a desert farming community of 8,577 (2010 US Census) people in California’s Riverside County. The majority of the population in Mecca is Spanish-speaking, and employment is primarily tied to agricultural work with the WEI facility being the exception to this .
In December of 2010, DTSC began receiving numerous odor complaints  and the South Coast Air Quality Management District (SCAQMD) began responding to odor complaints received from local schools, local community services facilities and nearby neighborhoods regarding various odors present in the community of Mecca. In response, the SCAQMD initiated a series of investigations and air monitoring activities. The SCAQMD identified Western Environmental, Inc. and their co-owned adjacent facility, Waste Reduction Technologies, as the primary source of the odors .
The South Coast AQMD cited the company on May 13, 2011 for causing foul odors that affected several residents on April 15. The incident constitutes a violation of AQMD’s Rule 402 and the state Health and Safety Code, which prohibit facilities from discharging air pollutants that cause a nuisance or injury to the public, to property or to business . Since that time, AQMD has responded to more than 215 odor complaints and conducted more than 70 field investigations, site inspections and odor surveillances.
A variety of air quality monitoring techniques have been implemented by the SCAQMD to test for air pollutants and the cause of the foul odors. According to the SCAQMD, the lab analysis is often unable to detect elevated levels of toxic pollutants or other odorous chemicals even during very strong and objectionable odor events. This is because the human nose if much more sensitive to certain mixtures of pollutants than laboratory instruments. Even though the samples may not show levels of toxic pollutants at or near short-term health standards, there are still known health impacts resulting from exposure to strong and objectionable odors. These include nausea, vomiting, headaches, and cold or flu-like symptoms .
Since brought to the attention of the Cabazon Band of Mission Indians, Tribal Affairs and Tribal Council members, WEI has eliminated the oil/water separation pond (the source of the foul odors identified by the EPA and the SCAQMD) and replaced it with on-site storage tanks where the liquid materials are separated and treated .
In May of 2012, DTSC issued an Evaluation Survey and an Evaluation of Soil Sampling. The Evaluation of Soil Sampling determined that chemical concentrations of the treated soils were below both federal and California hazardous waste limits .
To date, there have been no elevated levels of toxic pollutants detected in the community. However, there are still known health impacts resulting from exposure to strong and objectionable odors, and the SCAQMD takes these health impacts seriously. The SCAQMD states that they are committed to working with the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the Cabazon Band of Mission Indians, facility operators, and local public health officials to eliminate these odors and ensure the safety and health of the Mecca community .