Expand Your Toxic Landfill, Get Safe Water

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:

  • The state did not investigate the infant deaths and did not biomonitor the residents to determine the types of chemicals in their bodily tissues and in breast milk. Biomonitoring has helped in other communities with similar problems.
  • The state did not conduct a community health survey despite the fact that it was a door-to-door health survey that first found out the birth defect and infant death cluster.
  • The state did not evaluate the cumulative health impacts of all the pollution sources.
  • The state did not consider WM’s history of violations of hazardous waste laws, including when the EPA fined WM $302,100 in November 2010 for violations involving PCBs. A month earlier the California EPA and Department of Toxic Substances Control took enforcement action against WM for a spill of PCBs. The state agencies’ report did not mention those violations.
  • The state did not factor in that shipments and disposal of PCBs at the Kettleman City landfill increased dramatically in 2007, the same year the birth defect cases started. The landfill received about 40 percent more PCBs in 2007 compared with 2005. PCBs are carcinogenic and can cause birth defects.
  • The state’s report did not consider that illegal radioactive waste ended up in the landfill. A company that sent the banned waste to the Kettleman City landfill admitted doing so.

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.


Related Stories:

Coal Ash Dumps Across the Nation Are Looking To Expand

Waste To Energy: A Step Forwards Or Backwards For Ohio?

San Francisco on Track to Become a Zero Waste City


Photo credit: Alex E. Proimos


Abbe A.
Azaima A5 years ago


Cecilio B.
Cecilio B.5 years ago

As a Kettleman City resident, I can tell you that there are some residents with concerns about the Kettleman Hills Facility, but it’s not the majority as media always makes it out to be. In fact, many residents share an open, positive and friendly dialogue with employees from the Kettleman Hills Facility. It is frustrating to read pieces from reporters that continue to print misinformation and choose to make assumptions rather than state the facts. This does not help the residents of Kettleman City. The reality is that the residents’ higher concern is to have a clean source of drinking water. If Waste Management is willing to pay to continue to do business in this town and it will bring clean water sooner to the community- some residents support this 100%. Anyone’s opinion or political agenda that lives outside the community really should not matter. Rather than being a critique and bring nothing to Kettleman City, I urge you help us improve this community.

Duane B.
.5 years ago

Thank you for sharing.

Marie W.
Marie W5 years ago

Such a romantic picture...

Ron B.
Ron B5 years ago

That photo looks like the soul of the Republican Party.

Barbara Charis
Barbara Charis5 years ago

Many consumers buy things, they don't need, which wind up in landfills. We are not supposed to put hazardous materials in these landfills. There are toxic waste disposal sites, which "claim" they can handle this material. However, each person has to be a responsible consumer...and only buy what is necessary. This is a serious problem all over the world. In addition, industries are generating toxic waste and in many cases are polluting the earth and water. Governments worldwide need to hold them responsible for cleaning up their mess.

paul m.
paul m5 years ago


David M.
David M.5 years ago

Some years back there was a book called "Toxic Sludge is Good For You". which I would recommend as a dissection of the infinite arrogance and smugness of the public relations ( propaganda) industry in the service of Greed.(Greed is Good)
On the environment, climate change, war / imperialism, Americans are being sold a pup.
Non-Americans can only look on aghast as far too many in the US wallow in their quite hysterical image - I don't think the rest of the world "hates the US", we are just rather puzzled at the contrast between what we read about goings-on such as this and what we often observe as a measure of kindness in the individual Americans we meet.
As most sensible conservatives - like Gore Vidal or Thomas Frank,for example- can see, the American heritage is rapidly being buried by the "robber barons" of today. Not just FDR, but Teddy the populist must be turning in their graves. America, awake !

Nicole Weber
Nicole W5 years ago


Robert O.
Robert O5 years ago

That horrible and dangerous mess needs to be cleaned up ASAP.