State Regulator Backs Expansion of Controversial Hazardous Waste Dump

Thursday, July 04, 2013

A company with a long history of hazardous waste violations got a preliminary green light from the state Tuesday to expand its landfill at Kettleman City in the Central Valley by nearly half.

California’s Department of Toxic Substances Control (DTSC) issued a draft expansion permit to Chemical Waste Management, a subsidiary of Waste Management Incorporated, despite community and environmental opposition that dates back years.

Under the California Environmental Quality Act, the DTSC must review the potential impacts of the proposed modification. The department will conduct three public hearings during the summer, but environmental groups and consumer watchdogs aren’t waiting to make their sentiments known.

“Polluters can violate the law at will and still get a new permit,” Bradley Angel, executive director of Greenaction for Health & Environmental Justice, told the Fresno Bee. “The civil rights and the health of our state's most vulnerable residents don't matter.”

Residents in the area think the 30-year-old Kettleman dump—the only one in the state licensed to accept carcinogenic polychlorinated biphenyls, or PCBs—is responsible for birth defects, serious illness (including leukemia) and death among their children. The state ruled the dump out as being responsible for 11 serious child deformities and three deaths between 2007 and 2010.

The landfill was third on the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s list (pdf) of California facilities with large toxic chemical releases in 2011. The expansion would add 14 acres of usable landfill areas, increasing capacity 47%, from 10.7 million cubic yards to 15.7 million. A projected increase of up to 400 truck trips per day to the dump would also increase air pollution.

The DTSC cited the company for 72 unreported hazardous waste spills between 2008 and 2012 that it stumbled upon during a routine inspection in April. Although many of the spills were minor, the reports are critical in assessing safety procedures at the landfill and went missing during a time that environmentalists were questioning the company’s request to expand the facility.  

The company was cited in May 2011 and fined $46,000 by the DTSC for a similar lack of disclosure after joint inspections by the state agency and the EPA turned up unreported releases of PCBs from February to October 2010.

That fine was small potatoes compared to the EPA smackdown. The federal agency fined the company $400,000 and required it to spend $600,000 on bringing the facility into compliance with environmental laws. The EPA said the company’s onsite laboratory was incapable of correctly measuring the toxicity of waste and had cited the company for the same problem in 2005, which it failed to fix.

Supporters of the expansion touted a requirement in the permit that the trucks have cleaner burning engines. There would also be more air and groundwater monitoring, more landfill inspections and enhanced public outreach.   

The landfill, near the remote farmworker community of Kettleman City just east of Interstate 5 between Fresno and Bakersfield, is the largest hazardous waste landfill west of the Mississippi River. Two of the main routes through town are named Standard Oil Avenue and General Petroleum Avenue.  

–Ken Broder


To Learn More:

California Boosts Kettleman City Toxic-Waste Dump’s Expansion Hopes (by Lewis Griswold, Fresno Bee)

Calif. Recommends Expansion of Hazardous Dump (by Gosia Wozniacka, Associated Press)

Toxics Regulator Slaps Polluted Communities in Face with OK to Expand Kettleman City Hazardous Waste Dump (by Liza Tucker, Consumer Watchdog)

A Toxic Battleground (by Louis Sahagun, Los Angeles Times)

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

Proposed Permit Modification (Department of Toxic Substances Control) (pdf)

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