California Toxic Waste Dump Feared to Cause Fatal Birth Defects


Photo via the LA Times

There's been an unusual spate of tragic birth defects over the last year in the central California town of Kettleman City. Five out of the twenty children born in just over a year have been born with birth defects or "other maladies, including cleft palate and cleft lip," the LA Times reports. Three of them died, and the other two are receiving medical treatment. That's a full twenty-five percent of children born with serious birth defects. It's certainly enough to leave doctors and investigators suspicious that it's not coincidence--and the prime suspect is a 1,600 acre toxic waste dump near the town; one that's also set for expansion.In light of the recent investigation into the birth defects in Kettleman City, however, Senator Diane Fienstein has order the expansion of the toxic waste dump to be halted.

The dump in question is one operated by the waste management company, aptly called Waste Management, and it's the only such dump in the state of California that's "licensed to receive carcinogenic PCBs," according to the LA Times.


Photo via MMN

Kettleman City is a community off of California's I5--the long highway that links LA to Sacramento and beyond. I used to stop in Kettleman when I'd make the long drive to and from college to my parent's home in Sacramento. It's small--1,500 residents--isolated, mostly Spanish-speaking, and poor. Which, unfortunately, makes it as alluring a hazardous waste site to the government and business interests as you're going to find. You don't find to many hazardous waste dumps outside of Malibu.

But I digress, and don't mean to jump to conclusions. Waste Management has welcomed the investigation--the company itself has called for the EPA to get involved--are cooperating, and a rep reportedly says, "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."

But in 2003, the dump was one of 22 facilities identified by the California EPA as containing "unusually high levels of radiation." And it's hard to imagine that the massive dump has nothing at all to do with the strange birth defects. But that could still be the case. Which is why Feinstein is halting the proposed expansion until more definitive answers can be found--because though 5 out of 20 newborns having serious birth defects is extremely unusual, as well as extremely tragic, no conclusive links have been found yet. Yet.

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