Fresno Bee Newsroom Blog

Battle over Kettleman Hills landfill expansion continues

On Wednesday night, the tug of war continued over the proposed expansion of the Kettleman Hills hazardous waste landfill near Interstate 5.

Activists protested at the California Department of Toxic Substance Control’s open house in Kettleman City. Among their complaints: Six people failed to get notification of the state’s proposal to allow expansion of the landfill.

As a result, state leaders extended the comment deadline from Sept. 4 to Oct. 7. But the Toxic Substance Control leaders said they had gone above and beyond the legal notification requirements.

The state agency said more than 630 people were notified, but six people who had asked for email notification apparently did not receive it. Officials said they agreed to the deadline extension because people had raised the issue.

Activists criticized Toxic Substance Control, including complaints about the agency not fully explaining past violations linked to the landfill. The activists, led by the People for Clean Air and Water and Greenaction, have said they will sue to stop the expansion.

The fight over the project heated up in 2008 after a tragic series of birth defects was discovered. Activists blamed the defects on “a toxic environment” surrounding Kettleman City.

Over the last few years, state and federal investigators conducted a thorough analysis and say they found no cause, adding there is no connection to the landfill.

Toxic Substance Control leaders say their study process on the issue was the most exhaustive in the agency’s history.

The agency has scheduled a public hearing in Kettleman City on Aug. 27.

Hazardous waste landfill leaders meet with Kettleman City

Hazardous waste landfill leaders met with folks in nearby Kettleman City this week about plans to renew a state operating permit. Kettleman activists continued to oppose it.

Since 2008, the activists, led by El Pueblo Parra el Aire y Agua Limpio, have slowed the landfill’s efforts, sparking a government investigation of birth defects. Investigators found no link between the landfill and Kettleman health problems.

The Kettleman City meeting this week was required as part of the process to get the permit renewal.

Such a renewal would usually be simple — it was in 2003 —  but  Waste Management Inc., owner and operator of the landfill, needs to expand. There’s almost no room left now for hazardous waste.

So the landfill’s future relies on expansion approval of at least four major government agencies, which are moving cautiously.

The four agencies are the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, state Department of Toxic Substances Control, the state Water Resources Control Board and the San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District.

Waste Management is hoping for the expansion approval sometime this year. The state operating permit expires in June, but the company can continue to operate as long as its renewal application is received before the June expiration.

Meanwhile, activists say they will fight every step of the way. They say there is a connection to continuing cases of childhood cancer and mortality in Kettleman City.

Activists, led by resident Maricela Mares Alatorre, say they suspect there are simply too many environmental risks around Kettleman — including pesticides, diesel exhaust, contaminated drinking water and oilfield operations.

But no government agency tracks all the sources at once. In a story last month, The Fresno Bee featured Kettleman City’s multiple risks.