Environmental Hazards, Environmentalist, EPA, Health

Kettleman City, Toxic Dump

toxic waste
Kettleman has the largest hazardous waste dump west of the Mississippi.
Image: Shutterstock

Try to imagine that you’re pregnant and ecstatic to be so.  Then, after a few months, you go in for an ultrasound and there’s no heartbeat.  It’s a devastating knowing that there’s nothing you can do even though you would do anything to make it better.

Now, imagine it is happening to mothers all across your community.  It’s not only miscarriages; you’re hearing about all sorts of other health problems, too.  Does it seem unfair to hear that this is happening to a largely Latino and farmworker town between Los Angeles and San Francisco?

Kettleman City is a rural community with the largest hazardous waste dump on the west side of the Mississippi.  Those who live nearby have exceedingly high rates of childhood cancer, birth defects and miscarriages.  There is no question that there is disparity among where these dumps are located.

There are three toxic waste dumps in California and all of them are in low-income, minority communities.  Chem Waste Management, which owns the dump in Kettleman City, has failed to report 72 instances of hazardous material spills in the last four years.  That’s not exactly the best track record.

One resident said, “My daughter was born with birth defects, heart problems and deformities.  She died at ten-and-a-half months from an infection in the blood.  Sadly, I have not received an explanation as to why she died or why she was born that way.”

Recently, Chem Waste has proposed expanding its facilities by 50 percent.  They want to grow the actual landfill space and build a new landfill.  The reason for this is that they have run out of room to bury hazardous waste.  At this point, the Department of Toxic Substances Control, the primary permitting agency, seems on board to approve the expansion.

Chem Waste has even hired its own PR person.  Purposely, he is Latino and has started attending church in the community.  He has taken up residence in a house in town and it trying to convince everyone that Chem Waste is looking out for the interests of the citizens.  He is even handing out free t-shirts and food.  Luckily, many are not convinced.

One Kettleman woman said, “I am still fighting and waiting for an answer.”

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