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Kettleman City birth defects: Schwarzenegger steps in

birth defectshazardous wastekettleman city
Baby defect
Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger directed state public health and environmental officials Friday to visit
Kettleman City to conduct “a thorough investigation” into the causes of an abnormal percentage of birth
defects in the small San Joaquin Valley farming community.

Schwarzenegger’s intercession comes more than a year after activists unsuccessfully petitioned state agencies to investigate whether a large toxic dump near the community might be causing cleft palates and other defects among the mostly low-income Latino residents. The dump, operated by Houston-based Waste Management, is the largest hazardous waste facility west of the Mississippi.

Earlier this week, Jared Blumenfeld, the regional administrator of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency launched a federal inquiry, calling the situation “a human tragedy at a scale...none of us would want to have to endure. We will take our time and spend time on the ground,” he said, alluding to activists’ complaints that state officials had refused to visit the beleaguered enclave. “When I hear about people doing reports without going to the community, it makes my blood boil,” Blumenfeld said.

Greenaction for Health and Environmental Justice, a San Francisco-based group that has helped organize the community, called Schwarzenegger’s action “long overdue” and urged him to order the state Department of Toxic Substances Control to suspend a permit application from Waste Management to expand the facility.

In a statement, Schwarzenegger emphasized that the investigation would “include interviews with families,” as well as “a scientific review of soil samples and a full examination of medical records.” Officials would also review the overall birth defect rates over a 22-year period in the region.

Community members say that five babies out of 20 live births in a recent 14-month period had facial deformities. A review by the Kings County Public Health Department found that six of 63 babies born to mothers living in the town had various birth defects over the same period.

The community of 1,500 sits in a region heavily polluted by pesticides and by fumes from diesel-powered trucks.

Waste Management said in a statement it is “pleased” that the state will investigate the birth defects in a “coordinated interagency approach.” It added, “We believe our Kettleman Hills facility is highly protective of human health and  the environment.”

--Margot Roosevelt

Photo: Ivan Hernandez Jr. was one of five Kettleman City babies born with cleft palates during a 14-month span beginning in September 2007. The community has 1,500 residents. Credit: Luis Sinco/Los Angeles Times

Comments () | Archives (9)

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This action is long overdue, I hope the Times continues to cover this story. Just because the EPA launches an investigation does not mean that the community of Kettleman City will be able to stop Waste Management.

Cleft palate can also be genetic. Are these mothers in any way related or orginally from the same village in Mexico?

Check it out! Forward it!

You ought to see the babies with birth defects still being born in Vietnam years after we sprayed them with Agent Orange. Is there actually any question that chemicals can cause birth defects?

Without illigal immigrations and violations and abuse of US citizenship birthrights, none of these burdens of medical costs of deformities treatments would ve existed.

Is this not in the same area of the environmental problems that Erin
Brockovitch was involved in. It seems to me, having come from the central
valley of California, that there are many many different environmental hazards
that the people that live there have had to endure.
I remember as a child when the fields were sprayed with insecticides and we
were standing right in it. No one told us it was not a good idea. Then there was
the defoliants they used to knock the leaves off the cotton plants at picking time.
This had to have seeped into the ground water and the soil. Then there was
open pits where they dumped the excess oil from the oil rigs. So many things that I could recite that happened back then. Who knows what all is in the
area now. I remember before we moved away from there, there was black particles that were entering through the cooling vents and it accumulated along the walls on the floor. It was all being inhaled as well. It seems to me that they have poisoned the whole central valley, and its residents too with all the chemicals and polutants that are in the air, ground soil, and water. For They also sprayed DDT everywhere there was standing water for "mosquito abatement." Its a damned wonder the odds are not worse for that whole valley.

Sounds like possible ground water contamination.

freud5137, don't you see the writing above? "defects among the mostly low-income Latino residents". If the defects is among the white rich Republican, surely Gov. will step in sooner.

Jeez Gov. You act only when the EPA steps in and the story goes national.? The community asked for your help more than 1 year ago and they were denied. When one reads of what this community is surrounded by, how can there not be a correlation?


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