By: Vic Bedoian
Federal investigators have found that Waste Management, Inc., has violated the law by not properly handling the banned chemical PCB at its toxic waste landfill located near the San Joaquin Valley community of Kettleman City. Families in the town of 1,500 residents have suffered a rash of birth defects that they think might be linked to the nearby facility.
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) notified Waste Management on April 8 that it has improperly stored the chemical PCB at its hazardous waste landfill near Kettleman City. Polychlorinated biphenyls are a class of organic compounds known to cause cancer and birth defects. They had been used widely by industry in electrical components and in coolants for 50 years. PCBs were banned by Congress in 1979.
The EPA told the company it has 60 days to correct the violations or the agency will stop sending PCBs to the landfill. The findings underscore suspicions by Kettleman City residents that the toxic waste dump could be responsible for at least 11 babies born there with cleft palates and other deformities. The company has been fined in past years for failing to properly store and treat PCBs. The EPA also admitted that the agency failed to follow up on numerous violations by the company in 2005. At that time, Waste Management signed a consent decree with federal and state agencies promising to fix the problems.
The violations could affect Waste Management’s attempt to expand its toxic waste facility. The Kings County Board of Supervisors has already given the company a green light for expansion. But Jared Blumenfeld, the EPA administrator for the Pacific Southwest Region, told the company he will not consider any expansion as long as the facility presents a health risk to the community. Waste Management said the problems will be corrected.
Bradley Angel of the watchdog group Green Action for Environmental Justice told me he is gratified the EPA is finally doing its job. He said the latest violations indicate the company is “not capable of safely handling hazardous materials.” Angel noted the company’s pattern of conduct. “Chem Waste is clearly not complying with the rules. They need to be shut down, in the context of the years of PCB violations.”
EPA investigators found that the company violated federal regulations by not containing chemicals where they were stored and that they failed to decontaminate PCB storage areas. So far, the contamination found was located within the facility. The EPA will publish a study in the coming weeks to find out if PCB contamination has migrated off-site.