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Feinstein calls for moratorium on toxic landfill expansion

February 9, 2010 |  8:55 am

IvanHernandez

Sen. Dianne Feinstein on Tuesday called for a moratorium on expanding a toxic-waste landfill in the impoverished Central Valley enclave of Kettleman City, where residents have reported a handful of rare birth deformities over a recent 14-month period.

The California Democrat also directed her staff to examine the feasibility of securing federal funds to address the town's drinking water, which contains high levels of arsenic.

“I am very concerned about the surge in birth defects occurring in Kettleman City,” Feinstein said in a statement. “It is my view that there should be no expansion of the toxic dump site until we know with certainty whether it is a cause of this serious situation.”

Bob Henry, senior district manager for Waste Management's Kettleman Hills facility expressed surprise at the announcement. "This is the first we have heard of Senator Feinstein's suggestion," he said Tuesday. "We believe our facility is safe and we encourage an investigation into other possible causes of the birth defects so that Kettleman City residents can get the answers they deserve."

The move comes as federal and state health officials have begun visiting the largely Spanish-speaking farmworker community off Interstate 5, about halfway between Los Angeles and San Francisco, searching for clues about birth defects and other health issues.

Residents and environmental activists have reported that five of 20 children born in a period of a little more than a year had birth defects and other maladies, including cleft palate and cleft lip. Kings County health officials dispute those figures and are awaiting the results of a state Department of Public Health study.

The federal Environmental Protection Agency announced two weeks ago that it would review its oversight of a toxic-waste facility operated by Waste Management -- the only site in the state licensed to receive carcinogenic PCBs.

County planning officials approved an expansion of the facility last year, in part to accommodate waste from Southern California, including Los Angeles. 

-- Louis Sahagun

Photo: Ivan Hernandez Jr. was one of five babies born with cleft palate or cleft lip in Kettleman City, Calif. Credit: Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times

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