Drive out to the city of Jurupa Valley (pop. 94,000) in Southern California and have a drink. The methylene chloride (pdf) you are probably breathing there is known to cause all the symptoms of being drunk—headaches, nausea, dizziness, clumsiness and drowsiness—and amplify the ones you may already have.
Residents of the newly-incorporated city in Riverside County have been breathing the carcinogen in unhealthy amounts since 2012 and air-quality officials don’t know where it’s coming from.
The Riverside Press-Enterprise reported that the South Coast Air Quality Management District (AQMD) detected the chemical at levels four times the average found in Southern California cities. The chemical is a common industrial solvent used for many purposes including: paint stripping, vapor degreasing, printing, foam manufacturing and electronics manufacturing.
AQMD executive Philip Fine told the newspaper “there is no cause for alarm” but admitted it is “a bit unusual.” Another AQMD official, Jean Ospital, said the levels were too low to cause short-term problems. But it’s the long-term consequences of breathing methylene chloride that have some people worried.
It is regulated as a cancer-causing agent in the workplace and has been linked to liver and kidney problems and permanent effects on the nervous system. The chemical breaks down into carbon monoxide in the body so smokers can show nervous system symptoms at lower levels of exposure.
Outdoor air spikes of the chemical were found by the AQMD in the Rubidoux area of Jurupa Valley in 2012 during an air toxics study. It has continued to show up in the agency’s air samples and also those collected separately by the California Air Resources Board.
This has not been a good decade for Jurupa Valley. The city has been on the verge of financial ruin since the day it incorporated in 2011. It and three other Riverside County cities―Eastvale, Menifee and Wildomar―were all whipsawed in June of that year when the state voted to stop sending them a portion of vehicle registration fees.
The money had been used by the state to compensate new cities that don’t receive the same property tax monies older cities get. New cities were to get the subsidy for the first five years of their existence to help get them in the early going. Governor Jerry Brown vetoed legislation that would have restored the money in 2012 and again last month.