The Battle of Warring Studies, Kettleman City – Part II

I’m sure it must cheer Kettleman City families that Kings County has been given $158, 000 to develop a program to improve birth outcomes using grant money from the company that runs the hazardous waste dump three miles out of town.  Houston-based Waste Management Inc., the parent company of Chem Waste, wants their PR donation to create a two-year “preconception program” for women in the county, said Keith Winkler, King County’s health director.

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“Company employees are part of the Kettleman City community, prompting the company to seek ways to help it.”  Aw, that’s sweet.I am told that only two Kettleman City residents are employed by Chem Waste Management, Inc. It’s not exactly a company town.

The county will develop educational materials to be handed out at schools, health fairs and to doctors and health providers in the community to make available to patients. These pamphlets and educational materials will educate women and adolescents about how their health can affect any future babies. Things like not smoking and drinking, safe sex, and the like. These are startling new health discoveries that I’m sure will be news to Kettleman City families.

Better that they not breathe the air in Kettleman City, track home pesticides–maybe not drink town water contaminated by arsenic and benzene– and most of all avoid living near the biggest hazardous waste dump west of the Mississippi.  That’s a good start. So is a consideration of the cumulative effects of each independent factor like the pollution of air, water, and soil. But that is very, very hard to study, in all fairness.

Blame the Victims

The California EPA report initially implied mothers’ lifestyle may have caused the birth defects, but were forced to back down from blaming the victims in their December 2010 report to admit the mothers led a healthy lifestyle.

You must look at the self-congratulatory rewrite of this report presented on Chem Waste’s website , entitled Kettleman City Facts, which dismisses the concerns of residents that the birth defects could be tied to the waste dump at their doors.

Their facts show up at the top of every page you search related to Kettleman City as an ad.  Tell you something? An ad? That must have cost some money. So did the $300,000 fine levied on Chem Waste just three months ago for improper disposal of PCBs.

But consider this, State regulators did not monitor air quality at the toxic dump in Kettleman City during a period when there was a spike in the number of area babies born with birth defects. According to an email obtained from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, state regulators suspended independent air monitoring for PCBs and pesticides at the Kettleman Hills waste facility in April 2008.

John Sepulvado from Capital Public Radio , has pointed out that the state investigation relied heavily on the dump’s operators for information—hardly an unbiased source. But then every study can be accused of some kind of bias.

You sure wouldn’t want to find bad news. Revenues from Waste Management’s franchise taxes to Kings County amounted to more than $1.6 million last year, and the company paid another $380,000 in property tax, making it one of the county’s largest taxpayers. Again in fairness, Central Valley county governments are hurting.  Such a major contributor to the county’s cash register gets a voice at the table. Their voices are certainly louder than the town’s mostly poor farmworker population.  That’s how government works, folks.

I was interested to see that Chem Waste did its own study, at a cost of $800.000 which found that the level of PCBs surrounding the dump was just as good–or bad–as the contamination found in rural areas across the country. Studying just one component of what lies festering in the dump wouldn’t allay my fears.

There will be a rally to support Kettleman City families and keep the pressure on EPA and California EPA March 15, 2011, at 7 p.m.  For more information contact El Pueblo & Greenaction (559) 583-0800 & (415) 284-5600

If you’ve read this far you probably care about what happens to Kettleman City residents. Please come.  Bring your own water. Kettleman City water is unsafe.

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7 Responses to The Battle of Warring Studies, Kettleman City – Part II

  1. Cynthy says:

    I wish I could join you in your crusade to save the families in California from being continually poisoned. It’s very disturbing to hear that California EPA and the officials of Kettleman City are clearly not doing their jobs. Shame on them. The central valley is the heart of our food source yet there seems to be little concern over something that affects us all. This is similar to the struggles that the farmers in Kerala India have gone through with Endosulfan use. Thanks for posting the article.

    • admin-mar says:

      Cynthy, it’s my reluctant suspicion that we’re all being poisoned. Kettleman City gets a huge, noticeable dose of it. We eat, drink, breathe much of the same stuff, although in small quantities.

      It’s also my unhappy conclusion that Central Valley politicians must have a crick in their necks from looking the other way.

  2. NT says:

    As a four-year employee of the Kettleman Hills Facility you refer to, I take great offense in the things you say about us. You “are told” only two KC residents are employees of WM? What you probably have not been told is that of our sixty employees, at least 20 have either grown up, raised their families in Kettleman and/or still have family there. Me, and several of my coworkers are in the community every week either handing out food, sponsoring and attending senior lunches, working with the elementary school, sitting on the foundation board and mowing the school’s lawn. To imply that I don’t care, that my coworkers don’t care is irresponsible and taking liberty with your platform as a blogger. I can see that you seek out ways to find fault in large companies, government agencies etc. But in your quest to do so, you present a uneducated and plain wrong viewpoint. I respectfully suggest you stick to fiction writing and leave important issues like reporting on the facts to professional journalists.

    • admin-mar says:

      If I had a job at Chem Waste I’d probably feel exactly the way you do about any criticism of the facility. I’m aware of the extensive overview of the site by nine different oversight agencies. Concern for safety is important to the people who work amidst hazardous waste and that benefits everyone in the community.

      Yet I can’t help noting that the US Environmental Protection Agency fined Chem Waste Management $302,100 for failure to properly manage PCBs at the Kettleman Hills Hazardous Waste Landfill last December. And are a list of previous violations and fines. And according to a report by the LA Times, over the past 28 years, the Waste Management facility has been fined over $2 million for mishandling of carcinogenic polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) and failing to properly analyze leachate and storm water for PCBs.

      Still I know that if I worked at Chem Waste I’d enjoy most of my fellow employees and the bosses would be okay. It would be a pretty good job if I were living in the area and I would want to keep my job. I would have little skepticism about the data on safety standards that the company made available.

      And I have no doubt that your frequent acts of generosity toward the community
      are inspired by a genuine wish to give back—and not required by the company. These are individual acts of care and concern. If the company provides funds or resources to give away there’s nothing wrong with that. I appreciate what you do as individuals.

      But please allow me to be skeptical of “big companies and government.” We have been lied to so many times. At another time when I’m not typing this in a camper on my way to Santa Fe, perhaps you might like me to mention some of the ways big companies and government—and politicians—have lied their heads off.

      Here’s another question that’s bubbled up in my head as I try to answer you fairly. I can’t help believing that Chem Waste is not a contributor to the birth defects and serious problems in infants in a city three miles away. Just as pesticides, herbicides, contaminated water and air, and diesel fumes contribute to poor health outcomes. Then how come Chem Waste is the big villain?

      It is–and it isn’t–in my view. For one thing, I’m not expert on alternative methods to handling the quantity of hazardous waste we have to deal with as a wasteful society. Nor am I expert on anything. “Expert” is a term much abused nowadays.

      And I appreciate the hard work you do in providing a service in cleaning up our trash. Chem Waste provides a service in return for making a profit from its investment. They are not in the business of improving health outcomes for the local communities in which they operate. The review agencies mentioned in the ad, yes, it’s an ad that comes up in a Google search for Kettleman City, are charged with enforcing safety standards.

      Do I think there are too few inspectors monitoring many government health standards? Yes. Do I think public protection standards are being watered down every day because they’re expensive and inconvenient. Yes. Do I think elected and appointed officials have a buddy relationship with big companies. Yes, I do.

      That’s a cause for concern when strange health anomalies pop up. That’s reason to shine a spotlight on Cal EPA’s report. I worked as a researcher at USC for almost two decades. When you’re working with a small number of cases, it’s difficult and dangerous to generalize. Whether you count a case in, or discard it, can have enormous consequences.

      I’m uneasy about the report’s conclusions and I know damn well the young women in your area are too when they become pregnant. Something caused those birth defects and serious problems among the infants born in the community.

      I’m sorry that my information regarding the number of people working at Chem Waste from Kettleman City was wrong. As a blogger I work to get my facts right but I do not have the same obligations as a professional journalist. Thanks for the correction.

      I’m curious too about the long term health consequences of working at a hazardous waste facility. Can you tell me something about that?

  3. John says:

    There is one thing that I agree with you on this. That there are prob more than one issue causing the issues in Kettleman City. Two separate studies have cleared the landfill there as the cause of the issues. Instead of focusing on farming chemicals that are sprayed continuously for decades in the Valley, especially on farms where Kettleman residents work, they continue to blame the landfill. I hope that you will begin to bring the focus to what is in the air from the pesticides and chemicals that have been polluting our water and air for so long.

  4. admin-mar says:

    I do plan to look further than the landfill as the causative agent for Kettleman City birth defects. Sounds like you are familiar with the idea of cumulative impact.

    Those pesticides and chemicals leach into everything we eat and drink. Something’s terribly wrong with Big Ag as we know it.

  5. John says:

    Again, I think you are not getting that the more you focus on something that has been cleared, like Chem Waste, as the culprit actually does the residents of Kettleman wrong. Just like GreenAction, the more focus you keep putting on something that has BEEN CLEARED BY TWO SEPARATE HEALTH AND ENVIRONMENTAL AGENCIES, the real culprits sneak by. As a resident of Kings County, why don’t you help us identify and help our neighbors by getting this attention on the water issues and what is in our air from the farms that have had decades of pollution. The folks in Kettleman are most likely farm workers….so they are bringing their work home with them. I am not against you…in fact, I support your efforts, but I hope that you get on the right path about it.

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