The poverty-stricken Latino neighborhood of Kettleman City, California has endured severe environmental and health hazards for many years, thanks to the nearby toxic waste dump owned by Chemical Waste Management. The Kettleman Hills Hazardous Waste Facility failed to report 72 toxic spills over the last four years alone, and now, the dump may undergo a large expansion. Outraged community members and activists have been protesting the proposal.
Last month, the state Department of Toxic Substances Control - the agency that must rule on the proposed expansion - issued the citations charging that Chemical Waste Management's 72 unreported spills demonstrate that the company cannot be trusted to protect human health.
The 1,600-acre dump lies within the city limits just off Interstate 5 in the central part of the state, where it has remained for 30 years. Residents blame the landfill and its cancer-causing chemicals for causing 11 birth defects between September 2007 and March 2010. Three of those infants died. The situation attracted even more attention on November 12 this year, when Kettleman City resident Ivonne Rangel's two year-old son, Daniel, died of leukemia.
Rangel, who had put up a shrine dedicated to her child in her living room, said, "The first thing that came to my mind after my son was diagnosed with aggressive leukemia was that toxic waste dump. They say there is no connection between our sick children and the dump, but that is a big lie." A memorial service and funeral was held for the child several days ago.
The excuse for expansion offered by the company is that they are running out of room to dump their hazardous materials, even though they found unorthodox, illegal ways to do so in areas other than the space provided by their facility. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency fined them $2.1 million in 1985 for operating extra land fills and waste ponds without authorization, in areas dangerous to people.
Additionally, the company has continued to come under fire publicly every few years for pollution and illegalities. In 2003, EPA officials determined that the dumpsite was becoming a problem, in that it was emitting unusually high radiation levels. In 2005, the company was fined $10,000 for violating PCB monitoring requirements (PCBs are noxious organic compounds). In 2007, the company was fined yet again for failing to properly manage PCBs, and once more in 2010 for the same reason.
The history of Chemical Waste Management's facility shows a continuous series of oversights and violations, which continue to result in damage to the health of people and the environment.
Today, Kettleman City continues to have contaminated water, polluted air, petroleum deposits, and toxic pesticide exposure, threatening the livelihoods of families there every day. Many of these poisonous conditions could very well be trickle-down effects from the toxic dump. Residents believe it is time for Chemical Waste Management to take responsibility for its actions - not to expand their facility.
Maria Saucedo, who lost her daughter Ashley when she was just 11 months old due to a birth defect, said she felt offended and let down "by a system that would even consider expanding the dump after all the legal problems and children born with defects."
Resident - and now environmentalist - Anna Martinez remarked, "Everyone wants to know what's going on. A lot of folks are scared. They don't want to leave their houses."
Photo: Some of the homes in Kettleman City. El Nuevo Sol.net