Penny Newman and Center for Community Action and Environmental Justice in the News

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Environmental Advocate Claims DTSC Trying To Make Wildomar Investigation ‘Disappear’

Patch file photo.
Patch file photo.
After testing soil, soil gas and groundwater samples from specific locations within the allegedly toxic housing tract of Autumnwood in Wildomar, officials with California Environmental Protection Agency’s Department of Toxic Substances Control announced preliminary findings this week that claim the neighborhood is safe.
But the release of that data has drawn sharp criticism from some.
Penny Newman of the Center for Community Action and Environmental Justice, a non-profit organization that advocates for citizens impacted by environmental hazards, said this week, “The rush to publicize the preliminary results appears to be driven by a Senate investigation into irregularities within DTSC as outlined in a scathing report called ‘Golden Wasteland’ by Consumer Watchdog. The Wildomar situation played a prominent role in the report.”
In March, the DTSC director met with Senators and pledged to work with investigators exploring allegations that the agency has not properly enforced state regulations.
“We should have know that DTSC, which is under such intense scrutiny from [a] Senate investigation, would try to get the Wildomar case to disappear and be closed before the Senate report is released,” Newman continued. “We’ve seen this kind of cover up over and over again, but it never is easy to accept.” 
Newman argues the preliminary findings should not have been released, and said instead the DTSC should have waited until it had a final report to issue.
A meeting is planned for January with local residents and for a multi-agency task force to tour the Autumwood neighborhood. At that time, all concerned about the issue are scheduled to meet and discuss the test results and give comments. 
Newman argues that until then, the findings are not final and are only “speculative.”
This week’s preliminary findings from the DTSC come from testing of samples gathered last month in Autumnwood by environmental contractor AMEC Environment and Infrastructure. The company gathered samples from specific locations within the housing tract including areas at Front Street, Pasadena Street, Protea Court, Palomar Street, Amaryllis Court, and Pink Ginger Court. According to DTSC, it oversaw the sample collections.
Testing of the recent samples revealed the following, according to the DTSC:
·       No evidence of soil contamination;
·       Volatile organic contaminants detected in soil gas were consistent with background or ambient levels throughout Southern California;
·       Shallow groundwater was not a source of volatile organic contaminants;
·       Volatile organic contaminants detected in soil gas do not pose a significant indoor air risk or hazard;
·       Per DTSC’s “Vapor Intrusion Guidance,” vapor intrusion is not occurring at the Autumnwood development; and
·       Volatile organic contaminants detected in indoor air are not originating from the subsurface.
“While volatile organic contaminants were previously detected in indoor air quality samples at certain homes, our recent investigation indicated that these VOCs are not a result of contaminated soil, soil gas or groundwater beneath the homes in the Autumnwood development,” the Dec. 11 DTSC statement read.
The same day that the statement was released, the DTSC met with concerned Autumnwood residents.
“Today’s meeting with the DTSC was utterly disappointing,” said Xonia Villanueva, who moved out of Autmnwood after her family allegedly became sick from toxins she claims are throughout the housing tract.
Villanueva said the preliminary report released this week by DTSC is misleading.
“DTSC’s results are suspect, and warrant careful scrutiny for many reasons. There is a problem at Autumnwood and it is coming from the exterior of our homes, not inside as the DTSC would like everyone to believe,” Villanueva said. “We’ll meet with all the agencies again in January after we’ve had a chance to review all the data and then we’ll discuss where we go from here.”