By Ivan Delgado,
Eduardo Guevara Jr. spent many afternoons inside his family’s apartment playing video games. While this sounds like normal behavior for an 11-year-old boy, his reason for doing so was anything but normal.
Junior said he preferred to stay indoors, rather than play outside, when the smell he described as “rotten eggs” festered in the air above the community of Mecca.
About a year has passed since mass dumping was halted at the Western Environmental facility in Mecca. Many residents believed that the odor that drifted across Mecca neighborhoods originated from Western, compromising the health of the community. Though most of the dumping has ceased, the cleanup is not happening quickly enough for Junior and his parents, Claudia and Eduardo, Sr.
Claudia Guevara, 33, has developed severe asthma-related health issues in the four years the family has lived in Mecca. About a year ago, when the odor seemed particularly strong, she was hospitalized.
“I was sad,” said Junior, a sixth-grader at Mecca Elementary School. “I thought she was going to die.”
Her hospitalization propelled Eduardo Guevara Sr., 34, to become a major player in the movement for a cleaner Mecca. Last April, he took his young son with him to a community meeting held by the South Coast Air Quality Management District at Saul Martinez Elementary School.
During the meeting, Junior wrote a letter and asked his father if he could read it out loud. He delivered his spur-of-the-moment speech to AQMD officials.
“I did not have time to be embarrassed,” said Junior, whose parents describe him as a quiet person.
The letter was submitted to the AQMD, but his father kept a copy. In part, it reads, “I think that the government has to do something about the toxic things they throw in Mecca. I am worried for my mom.”
Since then, the budding environmental activist has developed strong feelings about the presence of Western Environmental and other waste operations in the area.
“How hard is it to clean up?” Junior asked. “Why don’t they just pack up their trash and go?”
It is unclear how many Mecca residents have had serious health problems due to air pollutants, but Eduardo Guevara Sr. said he knows many people in the community who have been affected.
Junior, whose numerous academic achievement certificates cover a living room wall, hopes to be a policeman, fireman or soldier one day. In the meantime, he is focusing on spreading awareness regarding the environmental issues plaguing his hometown.
“Me and my dad are doing something for the community,” he said. “So we both feel good.”
This story was first published byThe Desert Sun, www.mydesert.com, on March 25, 2012.