"MECCA, Calif. -- The burning stench first enveloped Saul Martinez Elementary School in December, sending two teachers to the hospital and forcing a classroom lockdown as firefighters searched the grounds for the source of the noxious odor.
Liria Vargas was in tears, unable to get to her 8-year-old daughter — and herself nauseated from what she thought was an invisible cloud of poisonous gas. The mysterious odor came and went for months and, every time, her four young children complained of piercing headaches, upset stomachs and raw throats.
"I'm afraid to let my children play outside some days," said Vargas, cradling her 1-year-old son in her living room. "It's not just the kids. It's everyone in this community. Everyone is affected by the smell."
The culprit, according to environmental regulators, is a soil-recycling plant two miles north, a 40-acre operation on reservation land owned by the Cabazon Band of Mission Indians. Four-story-high mountains of contaminated soil loaded with heavy metals and leached petroleum rise from the sun-baked earth, some shipped from polluted school sites in Los Angeles."
Phil Willon reports for the Los Angeles Times May 15, 2011.