January 31, 2010

California To Look Into Spike In Birth Defects

Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger called for two state-run agencies to investigate a rash of birth defects that have affected Kettleman City for over a year now, according to the Associated Press.

The intervention from the Governor's office was a welcome surprise to both residents and activists who have been demanding answers on why this is happening in this small impoverished municipality.

The pleas for help were largely ignored for nearly 15 months. Though it is a big victory now for the community, the people wish Schwarzenegger would have stepped in a year ago, Bradley Angel, executive director of the environmental justice group Greenaction, told AP.

The birth defects have become a focus point for the residents trying to halt expansion plans of Chemical Waste Management Inc., the state's largest hazardous waste facility. The Kings County Board of Supervisors was not convinced by the stories of birth defects and miscarriages and photos that residents shared to aid in their effort to win over the board.

Kettleman City resident Maricela Mares-Alatorre applauded the Governor's actions. "It seems like we're finally getting justice." Her family first went after the waste company twenty years ago in an attempt to stop plans for an incinerator to be built. "It has been a long time coming," she told the Associated Press.

Mares-Alatorre and Angel both hope Schwarzenegger can stop the permit process. "We want what everyone in every town wants: health and safety," she said.

Waste management officials are welcoming the investigation and are confident that it will show that their operation is safe and not to blame for the birth defects seen in 5 out of every 20 children born there between Sep 2007 and Nov 2008. According to a company spokesperson, Waste Management Inc. is protective of human health and the environment, but knows it is critical that the families get answers.

The Governor's order comes two days after a protest outside of US EPA Headquarters in San Francisco, where residents of the small town of 1,500 sought to draw attention to the issues.

The investigation will be handled by the joint efforts of the California Department of Public Health and the Environmental Protection Agency. A meeting of their findings will take place on February 9. The investigation will include interviews of residents, and reviews of soil samples and medical records.

The town, which is part way between Los Angeles and San Francisco, sits near Interstate 5, which is the main trucking corridor in California. Some believe diesel emissions from passing trucks may be a contributing factor to the growing health issues in the area. Others also blame pesticides used on crops along local farms and fields.


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