Toxic Care, Part 2—Falling Through the Cracks

Toxic Care, Part 2—Falling Through the Cracks

S. E. Williams

Photo of rain damage to Candice’s ceiling

In mid-October, The Voice introduced readers to a Riverside resident who for the purposes of the story was identified as Candice. Candice kept her identity private to protect her child who is still a student in the Riverside Unified School District. 

In October, we shared her background. Candice has battled kidney disease since she was a teenager, has survived two kidney transplants and now lives with Stage IV kidney disease. Her kidney function hovers around 20 percent. 

After losing a ten-year job due to her disabling condition, in November 2015, Candice was evicted from her home of twenty years and following the recommendation of her child’s school, she sought assistance from the City of Riverside. 

The city was responsive. Though it took some time, by March 2016, Candice and her family found housing through the city’s Rapid Rehousing Program. They were grateful and no longer homeless but it did not take long for the living situation to become problematic. According to Candice, they were subjected to a series of indignities that ranged from health risks, to sub-standards housing conditions, to the landlord’s alleged harassment, that made the year she and her family remained at the property stressful and disconcerting. 

Tenants in California have a number of rights as described in the state’s penal codes. Two of the most significant are the “implied warranty of habitability” as described in California Civil Code Section 1941 and also the “implied covenant of quiet enjoyment” as defined in California Civil Code 1927. 

The “implied warranty of habitability” makes it clear—rental units must be fit to live in, while the “implied covenant of quiet enjoyment” mandates landlords not do anything to disturb their tenants’ rights to live “reasonably and peacefully” in their rented space. Landlords who harass their tenants can be considered in breach this protection. 

The California Civil Code also makes it clear that under most circumstances, “the landlord shall give the tenant reasonable notice in writing of his or her intent to enter [the rented premise] and enter only during normal business hours.” 

Whether pointed to in the state’s civil codes or described as implied covenants, these foundational concepts are part of what assures every renter in California of certain rights. Candice has alleged both the city and her landlord failed her family in these areas. 

With the city’s approval, Candice and her family moved into a rear house located adjacent to what was the Riverside Scrap Iron & Metal Corp. formerly located on Sixth Street in Riverside. 

In 2011, an environmental consulting company was hired to conduct a site assessment of the facility and lead was detected in shallow soil that “exceeded the EPA risk-based screening level for industrial site use.” Results also indicated PCBs were detected across the majority of the site “with concentrations in some areas well above the EPA risk-based screening levels for industrial site use.” 

In August 2015, a supplemental investigation was conducted at the property to better define the extent and magnitude of subsurface contamination. Overall the results indicated the upper 2.5 feet of soil across almost the entire site was impacted with lead and PCBs in concentrations that exceeded residential and industrial screening levels. This assessment included sampling locations targeted on the immediate southeast property line, which borders four residential properties—one of these properties is where Candice and her family ultimately resided. 

The extent of contamination on the off-site residential areas was not defined by the report and additional sampling was required. Sadly, Candice was unaware of the potential contamination. 

In recent years, it has become clearer there are long-term health risks in children and adults who have been exposed to lead. In regard to Candice and her fragile health status, chronic kidney disease has become a serious public health issue. Also, exposure to heavy metals has been linked to Chronic Kidney Disease progression.

In light of these facts, readers are asked to consider the following: In 2011, an environmental site assessment showed soil at the Riverside Scrap Iron & Metal property exceeded the EPA risk-based screening level for industrial site use.

In August 2015, a subsequent inspection still showed levels of lead and PCBs in concentrations that exceeded residential and industrial screening levels. The samples taken this time included sample locations from the four residential properties but required more testing. 

In March 2016, Candice and her family occupied one of these residential properties with the support and approval of Riverside’s Rapid Rehousing Program. 

On November 8, 2016, a scope of work for off-site and perimeter soil sampling related to Riverside Scrap Iron & Metal Corp. was submitted to the DTSC who approved the request in a letter dated December 2, 2016. 

In April, 2017, the City of Riverside was advised by memo of pollutants on the property (including the unit occupied by Candice and her family). The pollutants identified in the soil samples included both lead and PAHs. 

In the meantime, Candice found herself engaged in battle with her landlord who continued to delay making necessary repairs to her ceilings that were seriously damaged by rains in the latter part of 2016. During this period, according to Candice, she also experienced difficulty connecting with the case manager assigned to her by the city for their assistance in resolving this particular conflict with the landlord.

Emilio Ramirez, Deputy Director for Community and Economic Development for the City of Riverside, Office of Homeless Solutions, who also serves on the statewide Homeless Coordinating and Financing Council spent time answering questions for The Voice regarding the Rapid Rehousing Program generally and how things should have worked for Candice and her family. The discussion began with questions about how the family was allowed to move into a property suspected of toxic contamination. 

To be continued…

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