A few months ago, I wrote about the Fresno families who were searching for answers about the alarming number of birth defects among the children born in their area. Two months later, the state and federal governments are finally getting involved and launching their own investigations into the cause.
Community members say that five babies out of 20 live births in a recent 14-month period had facial deformities. An additonal review by the Kings County Public Health Department found that six of 63 babies born over the same period to mothers living in the town had various birth defects.
On Friday, California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger directed state public health and environmental officials to visit Kettleman City to conduct "a thorough investigation" into the causes of birth defects in the San Joaquin Valley farming community. The Environmental Protection Agency has also launched a federal investigation into the situation, with regional director Jared Blumenfeld calling it "a human tragedy at a scale ... none of us would want to have to endure."
These actions come more than a year after local activists 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.