Residents in the small community of Berino, New Mexico claim they're being exposed to toxic dirt getting kicked up by a large construction project.
Luisa Alvarado scooped her daughter into her arms but within minutes, she wriggled free and tried to run away. For the past week, running has been difficult for 2-year-old Nevaeh, who has sores on the soles of her feet and palms of her hands.
"(Nevaeh) was just constantly crying and complaining," said Alvarado.
Alvarado said red welts popped up on June 13, after Nevaeh spent the day at her grandparents house where they were gardening, and digging in the dirt that Alvarado claims is contaminated.
"The doctor even said (the sores) could have been from the dirt; it was probably from the dirt," said Alvarado. "Something that she touched is really bad."
Alvarado and Nevaeh were just two of the many residents who packed into a church Monday night to share their soil concerns with County Commissioner Billy Garret and representatives from Tierra Del Sol.
Tierra Dol Sol is a non-profit development corporation that's in process of building affordable housing on top of what, people who live in Berino claimed, was once an illegal dumping ground. Residents said the construction is spreading contaminated dirt all over the community.
Tierra Del Sol consultant Charlie McNabb said their initial soil testing did not show any signs of dangerous contaminants. McNabb said Tierra Del Sol recently commissioned another study of old tiles scattered through the construction zone that did show some low-level contaminants. According to the study performed by the New Mexico Environmental Department, the tiles contain 10-15 percent asbestos.
"We can't be sure if anything is really safe, and going on the information we have now, there is no immediate danger," said McNabb. He said that Tierra Del Sol does not plan to stop construction based on the information they have now, but they will continue to test during the building process.
Commissioner Garret said he will be working closely with the Berino community and the Tierra Del Sol developers to perform more soil tests.
Commissioner Garret said they will use split tests, where two separate samples, one taken by a community appointed tester and the other by a developer appointed tester. Both tests will be sent to two separate labs.
Furthermore, Commissioner Garrett insisted the community will be involved in designating the sample areas. The results of the split test should be available somewhere between 30 and 45 days.
There's no way to know what caused Nevaeh's welts, for sure, but Alvarado said her doctor prescribed Nevaeh with antibiotics and ointment. With the treatment, Alvarado said, Nevaeh's sores are healing.