Saturday May 25, 2013
Kettleman City Catches Schwarznegger's Eye, EPA Testing LaunchedTim King Salem-News.com
Birth defects, infant deaths... one toxic town in California might get the attention it deserves.
(SALEM, Ore.) - A string of fatal birth defects in Kettleman City caught the attention of Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, and now, finally, many activists say, scientists from California EPA and several other agencies, announced that Kettleman City needs to be tested for 28 different chemicals.
Groups have tried in vain for years to call attention to really serious environmental problems in this area, but recent attention from the governor has turned things around.
Toxins on the state's suspicion list include industrial chemicals and pesticides, as well as arsenic, which is naturally occurring in the area.
Cal/EPA is looking into the potential sources of the chemicals from both present and past activities, including the Kettleman Hills hazardous waste disposal facility, agricultural operations, naturally occurring contaminants, industrial and legacy petroleum sources, illegal dumping, and arsenic in the drinking water.
Schwarzenegger requested that Cal/EPA take "aggressive action" to investigate birth defects reported in Kettleman City. The departments are coordinating their investigative efforts.
The Wind Blows
A change in office means a new focus for environmental groups in America. We're not talking Spotted Owls and a logging crisis. That severely affected the Northwest economy, but the new wave of environmental awareness is widespread, not exclusively regional, and has a lot more to do with the massive number of toxic contaminants present in our air, water, and more than anywhere in some cases, in the workplace.
It is unique and refreshing to see a small town like Kettleman City receiving new-found attention on a large scale. It is sad that it took a string of birth defects connected to this place to draw the attention of the state governor, but still a noteworthy advancement.
California Warrior for Air and Water
Carcinogens similar to what are suspect to be in Kettleman City, have been generated over the years from so many industries, for so many reasons, in so many places, that information is just starting to emerge about some very serious and often deadly effects, none of which are actually new at all.
That is why Salem-News.com takes a very active role when covering this sensitive area of reporting.
"Our writer Roger von Bütow has been one of Orange County's premier enviro-activists, focused on water-related issues, since joining the fray in 1998."
He has tremendous field and technical expertise in successful watershed restorations, plus wastewater, urban runoff, water quality monitoring/improvements, and the list goes on.
Spend an hour with Roger and you will be educated and simultaneously horrified to discover the true plight of California, and how the almighty dollar both protects and hides the polluters, all of whom could comply if they were only willing to accept the associated costs.
There are answers; polluters contaminate the state because regulatory agencies aren't willing to find them. When loopholes don't protect those who contaminate the air, water and ground, they rely on agencies like water districts and politicians to allow them to slide by.
I believe having Roger Butow of Laguna Beach in place as our environmental writer, Salem-News.com's Odd Man Out, is the strongest possible option for a journalistic run at real environmental reaction and productivity. His words in our pages have strong impact and can literally change, reverse and even eliminate the toxic problems threatening the west coast.
The Middle Man of Deadly Toxicity
You wouldn't think that pollution and toxicity would have a middle man, but sometimes that is the case. Developers and government agencies have discovered creative ways to work together to redevelop carcinogen-ridden real estate, and sell it for big profit. In all fairness, this game has ground to a halt over the past couple of years.
In California, we have reported and continue to cover the deadly contamination at the old El Toro Marine base, in Orange County.
This place has made a lot of Marines sick; many have died, and the problems show up in kids and grandkids. The biggest contaminants at El Toro include TCE (trichloroethylene) and PCE (perchloroethylene) and even scarier elements like enriched Uranium 235, and Radon 224.
The contamination of El Toro is serious and mapped out in books published by U.S. Navy contractors and maintained in the Irvine Library.
Somehow, in spite of the exceedingly clear information, like a sick joke, the city of Irvine is still trying to work with Lennar Homes to place expensive homes on this deadly toxic place, and a park.
The ground is so contaminated that the asphalt will stick to your car tires in the summer when it is about 75 degrees. I'd hate to drive there if it hit three digits. If you stayed in one place for five minutes and drove away, your car would give the impression that it was running on four flat tires. I had to pull over and literally peel it off one tire. Parking on the cement is the safe thing to do if you happen to find yourself at this abandoned Marine Corps ghost town / airfield and base.
Of course my buddies and I who were stationed at El Toro worked on that ground every day for years, absorbing the cancer-causing chemicals. We never knew, and today my former sergeant has had to bury two of his children from cancer. Both he and his wife are breast cancer survivors.
Score for Kettleman City
Kettleman City, unlike El Toro, is a place where people still live, and die all too frequently.
The group Greenaction in California, says they are continuing to show support for for this small farm worker community’s epic fight to stop the proposed expansion of the giant Chemical Waste Management.
"We won a big victory in December when Kings County officials joined Greenaction and the community in calling on the State to conduct an investigation of the birth defects and infant deaths. Kings County 'health' officials had previously denied that so many children had been born with birth defects or passed away, but officials reversed themselves in the face of an outpouring of protest from residents and allies, and the growing national media attention."
The group mobilized residents and supporters at public hearings on the proposed dump expansion in October and December. They are challenging Chem Waste’s attempt to get county, state, federal and Air District permits.
In a Community Alliance article, "State and Federal Government Finally Investigate Kettleman City Birth Defects" Vic Bedoian wrote about the 15-month period ending in 2008, that saw six babies here were born with birth defects. Five of them died.
He said it was an alarming development for the 1,500 or so people who live in this western Kings County town. Most earn a living through factory farms, businesses associated with a major interstate highway, and the Kettleman Hills hazardous waste landfill which is operated by Chemical Waste Management. The loss of the children was a turning point, Bedoian wrote.
"From that time on, families and citizen groups cried out for an investigation, suspecting the toxic waste dump might be the possible cause. Finally, due in no small measure to coverage in the Los Angeles Times and the New York Times, everyone is listening."
Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger ordered an interagency investigation led by the California Public Health Department (CDPH). California Senators Barbara Boxer and Dianne Feinstein said they would block a proposed expansion of the toxic waste dump.
A "vigorous investigation" was promised by Jared Blumenthal, director of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s western region, who met with the afflicted families. It looks like that is moving forward. Maybe, hopefully, this is a new page turning in the history of California's real environmental spirit.
Tim holds numerous awards for reporting, photography, writing and editing, including the Oregon AP Award for Spot News Photographer of the Year (2004), first place Electronic Media Award in Spot News, Las Vegas, (1998), Oregon AP Cooperation Award (1991); and several others including the 2005 Red Cross Good Neighborhood Award for reporting. Serving the community in very real terms, Salem-News.com is the nation's only truly independent high traffic news Website. You can send Tim an email at this address: email@example.com
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