Waste Company Fined $311,000 for 72 Landfill Spills It Didn’t Report

Thursday, March 28, 2013


Although Chemical Waste Management (CWM) didn’t think enough of the 72 hazardous waste spills at its Kettleman City landfill to report them, the state was more impressed.

On Wednesday, the state Department of Toxic Substances Control announced it had fined the company $311,000 for incidents that occurred within the facility between 2008 and 2012, while concluding they “did not pose a significant risk to workers or to the nearby communities.” The department discovered the spills in the company’s own logs during a routine inspection in April 2012. The law requires that all spills be reported within 24 hours.

CWM spokesperson Jennifer Andrews told the Los Angeles Times the spills were “not reported to the state because they were small spills, which were immediately cleaned up.”

The landfill is the largest such facility in the West. It is located a couple miles outside Kettleman City, a poor farmworker community in the Central Valley, which is home to contaminated drinking water, smog, diesel pollution, pesticides and oil drilling.

The dump has been the subject of intense criticism by residents and environmental groups who are trying to block the oft-fined company from obtaining expansion permits, and pressuring the company to drop the expansion plans.

The environmental groups, including Greenaction for Health and Environmental Justice and People for Clean Air and Water, blame the toxic dump and other nearby and related pollution sources for severe health problems in the community. An outcry over a reported high incidence of baby deaths, birth defects and other maladies since 2008 triggered a study by the California Department of Public Health (CDPH).

The department confirmed the spike in incidents of birth defects, but couldn’t link them to activities at the landfill. Kettleman City had no birth defects from 2002-05, while the 5-county area experienced a consistent 1 defect per 100 births every two years. But in 2006-07, Kettleman City had a 1.39 rate and in 2008-09 it soared to 8.51. 

A followup report by the CDPH found the Kettleman City rate dropped to 1.79 in 2010-11. The staff did not find “any patterns among cases to suggest that there was a common underlying cause for the birth defects.”

The CDPH said it “will continue to monitor birth defects in Kettleman City.”

–Ken Broder


To Learn More:

Calif Toxic Dump Fined $300K for Unreported Spills (by Jason Dearen, Associated Press)

DTSC Fines Waste Management $291,208.84 for the Kettleman Landfill Failing to Report Hazardous Waste Spills (Department of Toxic Substances Control) (pdf)

Toxic Waste Site Near Kettleman City to Pay $311,000 in Fines (by Louis Sahagun, Los Angeles Times)

CDPH Kettleman City Birth Defects Study Finds Rates Going Down (California Department of Public Health)

Waste Company with History of Fines Cited for 72 Landfill Spills It Didn’t Report (by Ken Broder, AllGov California)

What's Killing the Babies of Kettleman City? (by Jacques Leslie, Mother Jones)

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