It is good news that hazardous waste has slowed down in the largest hazardous waste landfill in the West, about 3.5 miles from Kettleman City, located in California’s San Joaquin Valley. However, if Waste Management (WM) has its way, the landfill will expand to allow more hazardous waste to be dumped in the community of 1,500 residents.
In exchange for the landfill’s expansion, WM has agreed to pay off the $552,000 the city owes for its water system, a system that uses wells to provide water for the city’s residents, water that is tainted with arsenic and benzene. The state will provide $8 million for a new water system if the city proves it can afford the costs of running the new system.
The hazardous waste landfill has caused serious problems for the residents. In 2008, two environmental groups, El Pueblo Para El Aire y Agua Limpio/People for Clean Air and Water and Greenaction conducted a health survey of residents. The environmental groups found that there were at least 11 babies born with birth defects between 2007 and 2010, and at least three of the infants died. The media reports that there were only five babies with birth defects, and does not mention the infant deaths.
In January 2010, then Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger directed the California Environmental Protection Agency (Cal EPA) and the California Department of Public Health (CDPH) to conduct a study on the cause of birth defects in Kettelman City. The two state agencies released a draft report in November 2010 which confirmed that Kettleman City had more birth defects than would be expected. However, the draft report did not find a cause for the birth defects.
A month after the release of the state’s draft report, the two environmental groups issued a joint report on the Kettleman City landfill. The report found numerous flaws with the state agencies’ investigation, including:
Given the many flaws in the state’s draft report, and the toxic nature of of the materials dumped into the Kettleman City landfill, it makes little sense to expand that landfill. It makes even less sense to hold hostage the city’s access to clean drinking water until more toxins can be placed into the area’s atmosphere.
Photo credit: Alex E. Proimos
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