Last month, Jared Blumenfeld, EPA administrator for the Pacific Southwest region, finally visited Kettleman City, the small California town that hit the national spotlight when its residents began asking questions about the potential link between a nearby toxic waste dump and their community's sudden rash of birth defects and miscarriages.
Blumenfeld's visit prompted an EPA investigation into Waste Management, Inc, the landfill administrator. Last week, the EPA notified Waste Management that its landfill has violated disposal rules for PCBs, a toxin found in transformers and coolants. Waste Management has 60 days to correct the problems, or the EPA will stop sending PCBs to the landfill from its cleanup sites, and the company could face fines, the EPA said.
The violations spur allegations by residents that its landfill is to blame for birth defects. To date, 10 babies have been born with defects, such as cleft lip and cleft palate facial deformities. Three of the babies died. An 11th baby was stillborn with birth defects. The recent safety citations could hamper Waste Management's efforts to expand the landfill about three miles from Kettleman City.
Federal inspectors spent five days in mid-February at the landfill near Kettleman City and found several problems with the disposal of PCBs. "We found PCBs in places they shouldn't be," said Blumenfeld. The chemicals were not contained where they were stored and where they were finally disposed of, in violation of federal disposal regulations, he said. The company also failed to decontaminate the PCB storage area.
So while it's not good news for the residents of Kettleman City, at least it's news. And maybe with these violations revealed, community members will begin to get answers to their questions and action on their concerns.