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U.S. EPA Orders Company in Thermal, Calif. to Immediately Cease Open Waste Burning

Release Date: 5/7/2003
Contact Information: Mark Merchant, (415) 947-4297

EPA Employees examine landfill in Thermal, Calif.     SAN FRANCISCO -- The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency today issued an imminent and substantial endangerment order to Lawson Brother's Enterprises to stop the facility from burning solid waste at its dump site in Thermal, Calif.

    The Riverside county site -- which is in an air pollution non-attainment area for fine particulate matter and ozone -- is violating a federal law banning open burning. Under the order, the facility must stop the open burning of solid waste, install fencing and warning signs, and identify and mitigate the dangers caused by open burning.

    In 1999 the EPA issued a notice of violation to the operators that was ignored.  The EPA found elevated levels of dioxin at the site during inspections in April and May 2002. The Torres-Martinez Band of Cahuilla Mission Indians of California began air monitoring in August 2002 for particulate matter along the tribe's border with the facility and found readings above levels considered safe to human health and the environment.  In 2002, the tribe  passed an ordinance prohibiting open burning.

   "This facility had disregarded federal and tribal law, and threatened the health of the community and the environment" said Jeff Scott, the EPA's Waste Division director for the Pacific Southwest region.  "Today's action will require the facility to immediately stop burning solid waste and take steps to mitigate potential threats."

     Incineration at landfill in Thermal, Calif. The tribe, neighbors, state air pollution control agencies, the U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs, and the EPA have been concerned about activities at the site since 1992.

    The facility is located within the exterior boundaries of the Torres-Martinez Indian Reservation and falls within federal jurisdiction.

Particulate matter includes dust, smoke, fly ash and condensing vapors that can be suspended in the air for long periods of time. When inhaled, these microscopic particles can lodge in the lungs and affect respiratory function. Chronic exposure to high levels of particulate matter can cause respiratory disease, lung damage and possibly premature death.  The elderly, children, and people with chronic lung disease, influenza, and asthma are especially sensitive to high levels of particulate matter.

    Dioxin is a long-lasting carcinogen that can build up in the food chain to levels that are harmful to human health and ecosystems. Long-term exposure to low levels may affect reproduction and development.

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