A handful of people marched in
circles in a dirt lot across from Community Recycling & Resource Recovery
Inc. outside Arvin on Sunday.
They were holding signs reading
"Why can't you be a good neighbor and stop polluting our homes,"
"Community Recycling stop polluting our air," and "Shame on you
Community Recycling, you lie to Arvin."
By Shelby Mack / The Californian
Faustina Ramirez (center) walks with
other supporters during a rally at the corner of Wheeler Ridge Road and Bear
Mountain Boulvard near Arvin to demand that Community Recycling stop releasing
toxic emissions into Arvin's air. Ramirez is the mother of Armando and Heladio
Ramirez who were killed after inhaling toxic gases while working at Community
Recycling last year.
And as they marched, they chanted,
alternatively in English and Spanish.
"What do we want?" a
leader shouted in Spanish.
The rest of the group responded:
The group was on the corner of
Wheeler Ridge Road and Bear Mountain Boulevard protesting the composting
company Community Recycling and what it sees as the facility's role in
polluting Arvin's historically bad air. The protest was held to publicize
recently released findings from air samples the community took around the
facility. The protest also fell near the one-year anniversary of the deaths of
two brothers who worked at the facility.
Community Recycling declined to
comment for this report through its lawyer, T. Mark Smith.
In the past, representatives from
Community Recycling have said they are working in compliance with all court
orders, that they are striving to maintain a safe working environment and that
the San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District has never cited them.
But Community Recycling has been
given citations by the California Division of Occupational Safety and Health.
In March, Cal-OSHA issued 16 citations totaling $166,890, saying Community
Recycling was at fault for the deaths of two brothers last October.
On Oct. 12, 2011, Armando Ramirez,
16, died from inhaling the poisonous gas hydrogen sulfide while cleaning out a
drainage shaft at Community Recycling. His brother, Heladio Ramirez, 22, tried
to rescue him, but was overcome by the gas and was rendered brain dead. Three
days later, Heladio Ramirez was taken off life support and died.
One year later, the facility remains
open, awaiting a hearing in February to determine if it can stay open.
Faustina Ramirez, Armando and
Heladio's mother, was at the protest Sunday. She said she doesn't understand
how Community Recycling can stay open.
"I feel horrible," she
said in Spanish, which was translated to English by a fellow protester. "I
can't forget the loss. I always, every day, remember my sons."
The protest was organized by the
Arvin Bucket Brigade, a group of Arvin residents who took their own air samples
around the facility. Between December 2011 and September 2012, they took seven
samples. To ensure the air the they sampled was coming from the facility,
samplers stood downwind, said Bianca Santoyo, program coordinator for Committee
for a Better Arvin.
The samples were sent to an
Environmental Protection Agency-approved lab in Simi Valley, said Jessica
Hendricks, program manager for Global Community Monitor, an environmental group
that helped the Bucket Brigade with the sampling. After the lab evaluated the
samples, they were sent to a third-party scientist for further interpretation.
To further determine if Community
Recycling was a threat for pollution, Hendricks said, the group took samples at
three other locations: Grimmway Farms, Bear Mountain Winery and Green Valley
Cold Storage. Findings from Community Recycling were the worst of the four, she
"We thought we would have more
impact focusing on Community Recycling," she said.
The samples found hydrogen sulfide
remained in the air. The first sample the group took in December at 5755
Wheeler Ridge Road found 21 micrograms per cubic meter of air. But at the
highest level, the group found 180 micrograms per cubic meter. The sample was
taken July 17 on Fairfax Road and Bear Mountain Boulevard.
That's four times higher than the
state Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment's reference level for
acute exposure and 18 times higher than the reference level for chronic
exposure. Acute exposure causes headache and nausea, while chronic exposure
results in damage to the respiratory system, according to the office's toxicity
Flor Zacarias lives about five miles
from Community Recycling and was at the protest Sunday. Every day at about 6 p.m.,
she said, the smell from Community Recycling overpowers her neighborhood.
Everything smells of oil, rotting food and smoke, she said.