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Toxic Waste Landfill in Kettleman City, USA


Description

Kings County is a county in California’s San Joaquin Valley whose population is about sixty-five percent white that mostly lives around the county seat of Hanford. Kettleman City is a little farmworker community of 1,100 residents, where ninety-five percent of them are Latino, located in the southwest side of the county, 32 miles from Hanford.

In 1979, without informing residents of Kettleman City, a toxic dump owned by Chemical Waste Management-the world's largest waste disposal company-was established about three and a half miles from the town. At the site, each day up to 200 twenty-ton trucks filled with chemical wastes like PCBs, benzene, and asbestos pass within four miles of the town center on their way to their final destination, where the toxins are treated, stored or buried.

Citizens of Kettleman realized about the existence of the dump in the 1980s when reading in local newspapers about the existence of millionaire fines that Chem Waste had to pay due to several violations of environment laws.

In 1988, a phone call from a Greenpeace organizer alerted the community that Chemical Waste was proposing to build a hazardous waste incinerator near the same location, again without informing or consulting the community. The proposed incinerator would burn up to 108,000 tons of toxic waste every year. The diesel emissions from hundreds of truckloads will add to the combustion of toxic materials in the incinerator. Pesticides and diesel contamination from highways add more pollution to the environment within this community. Recent reports have identified Kettleman city as a cluster of birth defects and infant deaths, pointing to Chem Waste as of one of the potential sources of these anomalies.

In response to these actions, residents of Kettleman City founded EL Pueblo para el Aire y Agua Limpio (People for Clean Air and Water). This group look at the location of the other two toxic waste dumps in California and realized that their characteristics were similar to Kettleman: small, mainly Latino, rural farmworker communities with high levels of poverty. The community also realized how the same dynamic is followed by the company (Chem Waste) in other parts of the country (incinerators always located in locations with predominantly non-white populations).

After trying to participate in the public hearing on the project, ‘El Pueblo’ filled a lawsuit at the Sacramento County Superior Court because of the Planning Commission’s approval. On December 31 1991, the judge ruled that Kings County Environmental Impact Report had not sufficiently analyzed the toxic waste incinerator's impacts on air quality and on agriculture; and, most importantly, that the people of Kettleman City had not been meaningfully included as an active participant in the permitting process. Although Chem Waste appealed the decision, at that time the story of the environmental justice struggle of the residents of Kettleman City had made it across the country. On September 17, 1993, Chem Waste announced it was withdrawing its application to construct the toxic waste incinerator. However, and even after been fined $1.5 million for pollution, the landfill keeps operating and a recent permit has been released (July 2, 2013) allowing Chem Waste to increase the capacity of the hazardous waste landfill. There have been public demonstrations and rallies against this increase in capacity

Basic Data

NameToxic Waste Landfill in Kettleman City, USA
CountryUnited States of America
ProvinceCalifornia
SiteKettleman City
Accuracy of LocationHIGH local level

Source of Conflict

Type of Conflict (1st level)Waste Management
Type of Conflict (2nd level)Pollution related to transport (spills, dust, emissions)
Landfills, toxic waste treatment, uncontrolled dump sites
Incinerators
Agro-toxics
Specific CommoditiesPCBs, Benzene
Asbestos
Industrial waste
Chemical products

Project Details and Actors

Project DetailsChemical waste disposal and treatment site with a capacity of 5.7 million cubic yards (and it's full), expanding an extra million cubic yards. Proposed incinerator: 50,000-100,000 tons of hazardous waste a year
Project Area (in hectares)4
Type of PopulationRural
Potential Affected Population1,500-2,000
Start Date1979
End Date17/09/1993
Company Names or State EnterprisesWaste Management, Inc (WM) from United States of America
Relevant government actorsCalifornia EPA; California Department of Toxic Substances Control; Kings County; California Waste Management Board
Environmental justice organisations and other supportersEl Pueblo para el Aire y Agua Limpio (People for Clean Air and Water); Green Action for Health and Environmental Justice.

The Conflict and the Mobilization

Intensity of Conflict (at highest level)MEDIUM (street protests, visible mobilization)
When did the mobilization beginPREVENTIVE resistance (precautionary phase)
Groups MobilizingFarmers
International ejos
Local ejos
Neighbours/citizens/communities
Ethnically/racially discriminated groups
Forms of MobilizationDevelopment of a network/collective action
Lawsuits, court cases, judicial activism
Media based activism/alternative media
Objections to the EIA
Public campaigns

Impacts

Environmental ImpactsPotential: Air pollution, Groundwater pollution or depletion, Loss of landscape/aesthetic degradation, Noise pollution
Health ImpactsVisible: Accidents, Exposure to unknown or uncertain complex risks (radiation, etc…), Deaths
OtherBirth malformations and leukemia

Outcome

Project StatusIn operation
Pathways for conflict outcome / responseCourt decision (victory for environmental justice)
Application of existing regulations
Project cancelled
Withdrawal of company/investment
Do you consider this as a success?Not Sure
Why? Explain briefly.After filling a lawsuit at the Sacramento County Superior Court, the judge ruled that the EIR had not sufficiently analyzed the toxic waste incinerator's impacts on air quality and on agriculture; and, most importantly, that the people of Kettleman City had not been meaningfully included in the permitting process. On september 17, 1993, Chem Waste announced it was withdrawing its application to construct the toxic waste incinerator. However, and even after been fined $1.5 million for polution, the landfill keeps operating and a recent permit has been released (July 2, 2013) allowing Chem Waste to increase the capacity of the hazardous waste landfill. There have been public demonstrations and rallies against this increase in capacity

Sources and Materials

References

Kay, Jane (1992), 'The Kettleman City Story' EPA Journal 18(1):47-48

Cole, Luke W. "Struggle of Kettleman City: Lessons for the Movement, The." Md. J. Contemp. Legal Issues 5 (1994): 67.

Bullard, Robert D. "In our backyards." EPA J. 18 (1992): 11.

Links

Sahagun, Louis. "A Toxic Battleground." Los Angeles Times. Los Angeles Times, 25 Nov. 2012. Web. 10 May 2014. .
http://articles.latimes.com/2012/nov/25/local/la-me-kettleman-spills-20121125

Montanez, Rick. "Kettleman City Landfill Renews Toxic Waste Debate." ABC Owned Television Stations. N.p., 18 Sept. 2013. Web. 10 May 2014. .
http://abclocal.go.com/kfsn/story?id=9252471

CLUI. "The Center for Land Use Interpretation." The Center for Land Use Interpretation. N.p., n.d. Web. 10 May 2014. .
http://clui.org/ludb/site/kettleman-hills-hazardous-waste-facility

Leslie, Jacques. "What's Killing the Babies of Kettleman City?" Mother Jones. N.p., July 2010. Web. 10 May 2014. .
http://www.motherjones.com/environment/2010/07/kettleman-city-toxic-birth-defect-cluster

Grossi, Mark. "FresnoBee.com." Kettleman City Toxic Landfill Fight Might Turn on Finances. N.p., 20 July 2013. Web. 10 May 2014. .
http://www.fresnobee.com/2013/07/20/3397933/kettleman-toxic-landfill-fight.html

Media Links

Youtube Video: Kettleman City Action Against Chem Waste PCB's. Kettleman City has been struggling against the Mega-Waste facility for decades. Over fifteen years ago they beat the proposed incinerator, today they fight the importation of the multi-tons of the toxin PCB.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pCz7SNXqBrs

Youtube Video: Toxic Town Fights Landfill Expansion. The largest hazardous waste landfill on the West Coast is trying to expand, but the tiny town it sits next to, is fighting the plan. A cluster of birth defects in Kettleman City, California has stirred up fear and frustration. Activists have been fighting the landfill for years, but the waste company claims it's safe.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EPYoRreqSZ4

Youtube Video: Birth defects linked to pollution in Kettleman City, California. Uploaded on Aug 29, 2011

In three years, 11 babies have been born with serious birth defects caused by pollution in Kettleman City, California. Univision
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gSEJSaU9x00

Protests to Stop the Expansion of Chemical Waste Management’s Kettleman Hills Hazardous Waste & PCB Landfill. Source: GreenAction
http://greenaction.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/07/KettlemanCampaign_Photo.jpg

Kettleman City residents show crosses of children lost to birth defects. (Photo: Cody Nesper)
http://greenaction.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/07/KC_0612_DSCF9166_755x252-755x250.jpg

Other CommentsThis is one of the top 40 influential environmental justice cases in the United States identified from a national survey of environmental activists, scholars and other leaders by graduate students at the University of Michigan

Meta Information

ContributorAlejandro Colsa Pérez, [email protected], University of Michigan School of Natural Resources and Environment
Last update08/07/2015