People say Mecca smell gone, problems linger

Terrible odor over Mecca is investigated

MECCA, Calif. - If you've lived in Mecca for at least the past year, you can attest to the fact that the city has had a certain air about it.

"Kind of like an egg smell," Mecca resident Rene Rodriguez said.

 In January of 2011, health officials determined the source of the smell -- an oil and water separation pond at the Western Environmental Recycling Plant.

The plant was ordered to clean-up the site and stop accepting bio-solids. However, health officials were still worried about the soil. After analyzing the plant, the California Department of Toxic Substances Control held a conference call to discuss the findings.

"We found some low levels of PCP and arsenic, but they meet the threshold for this soil to go into a commercial industrial facility," Hamid Saebfar, DTSC Project Manager for Western Environmental, said. "We found some high concentration of lead, but again the lead was just for soluble lead."

 The state considers the findings not hazardous.

"We really haven't been smelling it at all here," one Mecca resident said.

"I'm here all the time in the house, but I haven't smelled it for a couple months,"  Rodriguez said.

Only one neighbor we talked to said she can periodically smell the stench. However, the testing doesn't address the odor, which some neighbors fear may come back to life in the summer heat.

"It's not that hot right now. The other time, when we had the smell, it was kind of hot, like one hundred and something," Rodriguez said.

The findings show the plant doesn't meet a 19-point list of state requirements. They're falling short when it comes to the screening of incoming waste, tracking waste, testing during treatment, testing outgoing material, record keeping, and documentation. The plant needs to install a double liner system to detect and prevent contamination. Also, it needs to get its groundwater monitoring wells up to the state standard.

There will be a community meeting at 6:30 on May 17th at Saul Martinez Elementary so local residents can get more details from the state and discuss this list of recommendations.

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