Big problems In Kettleman City, California – We need another Cesar Chavez!
Kettleman City child with cleft palate
Haven’t read the article in the L.A. Times that appeared last weekend? Well…you should, and fast. The results from a survey of birth defects in this small migrant farming town halfway between Los Angeles and San Francisco, were alarming.
Over the first fourteen months beginning in 2007 three babies died as a result of their birth defects. Just 20 babies were born over that time. Each baby born during that time was born with a cleft palate. Two of them are undergoing medical treatment as we speak.
Residents blame the high birth defect rate on a nearby hazardous waste facility — the only one in California licensed to accept carcinogenic PCBs, which is poised to be expanded if a proposition before the Kings County Board of Supervisors is granted. Residents and Environmental activists are outraged and rightly so. Even the owner of the site, “Chemical Waste Management Inc., is concerned about the county’s reluctance to call for an investigation into the relationship between the landfill and the consumer health issues.
County health officials claim it is difficult to quantify the relationship between pollution and birth defects, but have not outlined what can be done, even in the face of “difficulty.” In my opinion, “difficult” does not mean “impossible.” What are the costs? what are the procedures? They must be outlined and done. We MUST QUANTIFY the relationship and STAT.
The nature of corporate growing in this area (which many of the residents are employed by), must not be discounted as a possible contributing factor. Growers exhibiting their feverish desire to grow more & more, faster & faster at a grade “A” at least employ the use of varied chemicals with minimal precautions for their workers. But now there is a immediate and heinous dimension to their suffering, this alarming birth defect rate.
“I understand why people are concerned,” Kings County health officer Michael MacClean said in an interview. “But most of the time, when we are talking about small numbers such as these, they are just random occurrences.”
In this author’s opinion, If you do the math, the ratio of births to birth defect occurances in the time span which the birth occurred is well above the national average, alarmingly so. If this was occuring in Brentwood, would the county claim “difficulty” and leave it at that?
“We will definitely continue to monitor the situation to see if over time the apparent excess of cleft palates continues,” MacCelan said. “If so, I would at that point ask for the state to come in and investigate.” The time is now Mr. McClean. Children cannot be put at risk and the respect and health of citizens of that town or any town in California, in America for that matter cannot be taken for granted, or pushed aside until more alarming evidence warrants. This IS ALARMING EVIDENCE! and we need to quantify it and rule it out if it is warranted. We then need to study waste management and farming systems, their processes, their chemicals and how they come into contact with workers.
Last Monday, Kettleman City residents with and without children affected by the rash of birth defects, along with hundreds of landfill employees traveled to Hanford Civic Auditorium, to hear the Board of Supervisors consider an appeal of the county planning commission’s recent unanimous approval of the expansion.
Supervisors heard from several witnesses well into the evening. A final decision on whether to approve the expansion is expected Dec. 22.
“Health First, Money Last,” read some of the signs demonstrators held. they gathered on the steps of the auditorium boisterous and angry.
In so many examples Kern County and local corporations exhibit overt and underlying racism toward the migrant workers and this slow-heeled lackadaisical attitude toward children’s health is indicative of it.
Unfortunately these people, the ones that facilitate the process of our food actually making it to the market are treated as pawns, like slaves, and the possibility of chemical contamination of their living environment, though unfortunate, has some root cause and it must be found. In not investigating it, the county is no better than Toyota looking the other way as people sped to their deaths.
If racism is nefariously playing a role in the County’s ambivalence toward investigating then they must consider the larger “no race” indicator for investigating with rapid alacrity…Obviously something is happening to the DNA of migrant workers over time as a large group! The chemicals they are exposed to everyday whether the initiation site is their jobs on the field or their drinking water at home, is more than alarming for ALL people!
How do the County and Corporate Ag get off ripping off a whole race / demographic of workers? WE NEED ANOTHER CESAR CHAVEZ!!!!
The Central Valley is the “fruit and vegetable basket” of California and supplies much of the United States. Growers and processors have long been charged with treating their workers in a more than sub-par fashion. Now there is a nefarious mystery and it’s hurting children. The county if it continues to drag it’s heels will be held responsible for “the maiming their future generations of these migrant workers.”
Waste Management has done the right thing to encourage the County to investigate the root causes of the high incidence of birth defects, But if the County does not react and waits until “further notice” will Waste Management pay for the investigation themselves? Migrant farm-workers, a good percentage of residents of Kettleman City, have always battled the conditions and treatment of the farming bureauocracy and now they cannot even get the County to quantify the health risks they are suffering in their home environment. Isn’t it time we stood up for these people?