That ain’t mesquite

Neighbors of a new subdivision being built at the west end of Eaton Road complained last week that workers clearing a field for the project were burning highly toxic construction debris along with cleared vegetation.

Nearby resident Louise Murad said her home was enveloped for days in black, greasy smoke that hung close to the ground “like a heavy fog.” Murad said she called the county Air Quality Management office after noticing workers were burning “insulation materials, linoleum [and] light and dark plastic.”

“You couldn’t see—that’s how bad it was,” she said.

Butte County air pollution control officer Jim Wagoner confirmed that an investigation was ongoing against Butte Agri Services, a local company that had a permit to burn the cleared trees from a 70-acre former kiwi orchard slated to become part of a housing development. Wagoner said he had confirmed that, in addition to recently pulled kiwi trees, workers were also burning PVC piping and other “building materials,” possibly including fencing material and trellises made from treated wood, which often contains arsenic and other toxic materials.

“We’re still working on the investigation,” Wagoner said. “There was vegetation material, and a lot of it was green. There was also a fair amount of dirt in the piles, which does not help with a clean burn.”

The fires began burning on Tuesday, Sept. 21. By the next day, the county had heard enough complaints to force a visit to the site and ask that all burning cease. The next day, the company began putting out the fires, but by Friday, Sept. 24, when the CN&R visited the site, many of the half-dozen or so piles were still smoldering, giving off a small amount of gray smoke. The piles varied in size, the biggest being about 15 feet around, with blackened tree stumps and large branches protruding from the ash and earth. No building materials or plastic was seen at that time.

“We would have liked to see it out on Wednesday,” Wagoner said. “I am quite concerned about this one.”

Wagoner said the company could face fines ranging anywhere from $1,000 to $50,000 if it is found to be at fault. He would not say whether any other county or state agency was participating in the investigation.

A representative from Butte Agri Services was not available for comment by press time.