Residents of the rural Kings County community of Kettleman City came out Wednesday (Jan. 30) to continue their opposition to the possible expansion of a nearby hazardous waste landfill.
"Babies still are dying of cancer," said Anna Martínez, a community organizer with Greenaction for Health and Environmental Justice. "We are demanding these government agencies to stop playing with the health of the people of this community."
Other health concerns include pollution from pesticides, diesel emissions and contaminated drinking water.
"We are losing our children," Martínez said. "We don't know what is causing the problem."
Chemical Waste Management, Inc. held a public meeting at the Kettleman City Elementary School cafeteria as part of the Kettleman Hills Facility's Part B permit renewal application that will be submitted to the California Department of Toxics Substance Control for approval. The deadline to submit the application is Feb. 18.
The company's operational permit is good for 10 years and will expire on June 16. Included in the operational permit application is the expansion of the facility's landfill B18 as a possible significant change in the facility operations, according to Bob Henry, the company's senior district manger.
The 1,600-acre toxic waste dump, just off Interstate 5, is the largest of its kind west of the Mississippi River. It is the only one in California licensed to accept carcinogenic polychlorinated biphenyls, or PCBs. The facility handles the treatment, storage and disposal of PCBs, hazardous and non-hazardous waste.
In 1979, Congress banned the used of PCBs, which are liquids that were used in electrical transformers, capacitors, circuit breakers, voltage regulators/switches, plasticizers, and additives in lubricating and cutting. They cause cancer in animals and are suspected carcinogens in humans.
The facility is getting close to full capacity. If the expansion is approved, up to 400 trucks could travel to and from the facility each day.
In 2008, Waste Management applied for the expansion of the controversial landfill, which is about 3.5 miles from Kettleman City. The state has yet to approve the expansion.
Local activists and residents have partnered with Greenaction, a San Francisco-based organization, to fight the expansion and to improve the health in Kettleman City.
"Our health is still being compromised," Martínez said as she asked government officials to take a look at what was going on in the community before they approve a permit. "This approval is going to increase the contamination in the area. All these people don't deserve to live in a place that is highly contaminated."
Kettleman City, a farmworker community with 1,500 mostly Spanish-speaking low-income residents located off Interstate 5 about halfway between Los Ángeles and San Francisco.
"I am here to ask you a question. With so many violations you've received, who is going to reassure us that we are going to be safe in the place where we live?," said María Saucedo, a resident of Avenal and a Greenaction community organizer. "I am very angry because you are still insisting in getting the permit and up to today we haven't any answer from any group or organization why our children are being born with deformities and why people still dying of cancer."
"As a father of three children, my heart goes out to the families, the children that have been impacted, but I must state that from all the testing and studies that have been done, all have one consistent conclusion that the Kettleman Hills Facility is not adversely affecting the Kettleman City community," said Henry. "As far as what is causing the birth defect, I am not aware of what is causing them. That is something I can't answer."
Kettleman City has received national attention for the unexplained cluster of birth defects including cleft palates, infant deaths and other health issues including cancer. Eleven babies were born with between September 2007 and March 2010. Three of the babies died.
Residents still haven't received a clear answer to the cause of the health problems the community are struggling with, but suspect those are linked to the operations of the landfill.
Saucedo is one of the many residents who had experience the pain of losing a child. Her daughter Ashley, who was one of the babies born with cleft palate and other severe health problems, died at 11 months in 2009. The same year, Saucedo gave birth to a healthy baby but had a miscarriage in 2011. She's now expecting another child.
Saucedo, who was part of study into the community's health concerns, said she was questioned about her activities three months before her pregnancy and three months while pregnant. She said nobody conducted a skin or blood test because it was very expensive.
"And a questioner does not give me an answer," Saucedo said.
Kings County environmental activist Maricela Mares-Alatorre, hopes that the decision makers that are sitting on permits for the expansion of the Kettleman Hills toxic waste landfill, deny them this year.
During the meeting Mares-Alatorre, a Kettleman City resident and spokeswoman for People for Clean Air and Water for Kettleman City and mother of two, pointed out that the facility was recently cited with 72 new violations.
In November 2012, the landfill was cited by the state Department of Toxic Substances Control for 72 instances of failing to report toxic materials spills. The law requires that spills be properly notified to the state agency, which is something Waste Management, as the landfill operator, failed to do. The spills happened over a four-year period (2008-12).
At the end of the meeting, Martínez asked Waste Management officials what would they do if this had happened to them and their families.
"What would you have done, would you have given up the fight? Or would you have continued fighting to reduce the contamination of the community affected?"
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