Understanding, Managing, and Living with the

Health Effects of Asbestos

Is the Community of Cathedral City Living with Asbestos?

July 7, 2011

Cathedral City, CA Although the community of Cathedral City has yet to determine whether asbestos is the cause of their health problems, Jessica believes that the construction site nearby should be tested. "This company washes old building materials to make them 'new' again, but at what cost to residents—we are breathing toxic dust daily," she says.

"We are just regular people and can't afford to hire a company to do asbestos testing—it is going to be expensive. This waste dump site is upwind from me so the various particulate toxic matter is transported through the air for all of the Coachella Valley to breathe.

"I don't know for a fact but I am sure there is asbestos in these buildings they are 'washing.' A number of old buildings in Palm Springs were demolished and this is the closest dump site. And the construction site is situated in a flood zone so when it rains, waste material is transported downstream along the river bordering the site. With summer heat, the river dries up and this stuff left on the riverbed becomes airborne. It's hard to explain what it looks like, but at night you can see fine sparkly dust in your headlights—it's everywhere. But nobody has done any testing."

Over the past several years, Jessica has methodically documented her contacts with the construction company, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), city planners and the local Homeowners Association regarding possible asbestos exposure.

"I called the construction company in May 2007 and spoke with someone from 'Business Development and Government Relations'," she says. "He told me that they don't even know what is on the site because 'people dump stuff illegally all the time' and he refused to admit that the wind could be moving the materials around, even though it is just basic common sense. I then asked him what the company actually does. 'We wash dirty material,' he said, and he explained that they take old building materials, such as concrete, wash it and make it new. I asked him where the dirty water goes and he replied, 'Into a pond.'

"I figured there could be ground water contamination to the aquifer. But wait, it gets worse…Then I asked him how they contain the huge pile of old dirty building materials. 'We spray chemicals on them,' he answered.

"I care about myself and my health but I also care about the community and the planet. There are so many elderly people I know of—this valley is retirement mecca—who have respiratory problems. And many kids have asthma."

Jessica's neighbor recently passed away. "I spoke with Carmen just before she died," says Jessica. "She was very concerned because she had a lung removed and her doctor advised her not to go outside, especially when it was windy. And she never smoked."

Jessica has had her share of health problems, which she believes is related to asbestos exposure. "Shortly after moving here 10 years ago, I had to have my tonsils removed," she says. "The pathology report said there was a 'white, cottage-cheese-like substance' inside my tonsils. That was nasty. I developed asthma, a chronic cough and other respiratory problems, and I was recently diagnosed with vocal polyps.

"There are a lot of neighbors on my street who are concerned about asbestos exposure, but they are so busy with their lives that they haven't done anything much about it. When I complained on their behalf to the president of the Homeowners Association, he said, 'Keep your mouth shut—the property values will go down if people find out.' As for the EPA, they replied to our complaint with a standard form letter and didn't do anything. We complained again this year, thinking the current administration would care, but so far, no response…

"It's beautiful here but I'd rather live on the west side of the wash in Palm Springs. I'm on the east side, where the toxic dust blows."