Underregulated hazardous waste facility by Western Environmental in California, USA


Western Environmental Incorporated (WEI) is located in Mecca, on tribal land owned by the Cabazon Band of Mission Indians (CBMI) [1]. 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.

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Basic Data
NameUnderregulated hazardous waste facility by Western Environmental in California, USA
CountryUnited States of America
Accuracy of LocationHIGH local level
Source of Conflict
Type of Conflict (1st level)Waste Management
Type of Conflict (2nd level)Landfills, toxic waste treatment, uncontrolled dump sites
Specific Commoditiessoil contaminated with petroleum hydrocarbons, water contaminated with oil, and soy-whey waste
Project Details and Actors
Project DetailsThere have been more than 215 odor complaints and more than 70 field investigations [6].

Regarding Grab Samples: In all six cases, the total sulfur compound levels were below the lowest amount detectable by the instrument (3 ppb) The California odor nuisance standard for hydrogen sulfide, a component of odor-causing sulfur compounds, is 30 ppb, but such sulfur compounds cause odors at levels much less than that [7].

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.” Of the wastes that are considered California-only hazardous, approximately 80% are metals-impacted and 20% are petroleum-impacted, according to WEI staff” [5].
Potential Affected Population300-9,000
Start Date2010
Company Names or State EnterprisesWestern Environmental Inc- Mecca (WEI- Mecca) from United States of America - Origin of odors
Relevant government actorsSouth Coast Air Quality Management District (SCAQMD), U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (U.S. EPA), Cabazon Band of Mission Indians (CBMI), Department of Toxic Substances Control (DTSC)
The Conflict and the Mobilization
Intensity of Conflict (at highest level)LOW (some local organising)
When did the mobilization beginMobilization for reparations once impacts have been felt
Groups MobilizingIndigenous groups or traditional communities
Forms of MobilizationCommunity-based participative research (popular epidemiology studies, etc..)
Official complaint letters and petitions
Environmental ImpactsPotential: Air pollution, Soil contamination
Health ImpactsVisible: Other Health impacts
Othernausea, vomiting, headaches, and cold or flu-like symptoms
Project StatusIn operation
Pathways for conflict outcome / responseNew Environmental Impact Assessment/Study
Do you consider this as a success?Not Sure
Why? Explain briefly.Environmental testing has been done and, 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 (http://www.aqmd.gov/home/library/air-quality-data-studies/special-monitoring/odor-investigations---mecca-ca).
Sources and Materials

Western Environmental Inc: Mecca, Riverside County [1]
[click to view]

Investigations and Air Sampling in Mecca, CA: Status Report March 31, 2011 [2]
[click to view]

WEI Soil Stockpile Report April 2012 [3]
[click to view]

Presentation: Evaluation Survey of WEI by Robert Kou at Department of Toxic Substance Control [4]
[click to view]

WEI Evaluation Survey Report May 2012 DTSC [5]
[click to view]

AQMD Cites Western Environmental Inc. for Foul Odors in Mecca May 13, 2011 [6]
[click to view]

Media Links

Associated Press story on the odor in Mecca, CA
[click to view]

Other Documents

Composting piles Composting piles at Western Environmental sprayed with a chemical sealant to minimize odors
[click to view]

Mecca Status Report [7] Report by the AQMD in March 2011
[click to view]

April 2011 WEI Notice to Customers
[click to view]

WEI Bar Chart of Waste
[click to view]

Composting piles at facility
[click to view]

Meta Information
ContributorBernadette Grafton and Paul Mohai, [email protected] and [email protected], University of Michigan School of Natural Resources and Environment
Last update07/05/2015