Don’t Waste the Valley:
Preventing the Valley from Becoming California’s Dumping Ground
GOAL: Protect rural communities from unfair waste disposal practices
BACKGROUND: The Central Valley is currently California’s dumping ground. Residents are literally living in the waste of the state’s lucrative agricultural economy and are now finding themselves the target for dumping of toxic waste, food waste and sewage sludge from large urban cities. Community members throughout Kern, Kings and Tulare County have recognized agricultural and industrial dumping in the Central Valley as a huge threat to their air quality, drinking water sources and health. Target communities in the Central Valley have begun to recognize this pattern and are starting to fight back. CRPE helps educate, mobilize, and secure protections for those communities that have been targeted for unsafe waste practices.
CRPE’s original waste project began in 1990, when CRPE founder Luke Cole helped spearhead the environmental justice movement by fighting, alongside local residents and activists from around the Country, to defeat a hazardous waste incinerator just outside of Kettleman City, a small, predominantly Latino farmworker community. From its inception, the environmental justice movement has recognized that toxic waste dump operators target those they view are least equipped to offer resistance—poor rural communities and communities of color. In California, the two other Class I toxic waste dumps are located in communities very similar to Kettleman City— Buttonwillow which is 63 percent minority, and Westmorland which is 72 percent Latino. All isolated, rural, low-income communities of color, and all bearing the brunt of the pollution and health hazards from waste generated in other, more affluent areas.
On December 22, 2009, the Kings County Board of Supervisors voted to expand the hazardous waste dump in Kettleman City, despite growing evidence that the community faces an unprecedented health emergency. From late 2007 to 2010, 11 babies in the small community were born with severe birth defects—many of them cleft palates along with heart and brain defects. Three of the infants ultimately died from complications of their defects. To date, no agency has done a health investigation into potential causes of this health crisis. Meanwhile, hundreds of trucks laden with the most toxic chemicals known to man continue to pass through Kettleman City daily. The dump, which is only one of seven facilities nationwide to accept the banned carcinogen PCB, is located only a few miles outside of town. CRPE is representing the local community group in El Pueblo para el Aire y Agua Limpio v. County of Kings Board of Supervisors, to oppose the expansion of the hazardous waste landfill.
Beginning in 2006, CRPE has represented another high profile community – Hinkley, made famous in Hollywood blockbuster Erin Brokovich. The small rural community suffered greatly from exposure to hexium chromium contamination from PG&E. Now the community is being targeted by another industry—sewage sludge composting. The largest sewage sludge composting operation in the U.S is attempting to locate in the high desert, just miles away from Hinkley, CA. Sewage sludge—euphemistically referred to as biosolids—is the solid, semi-solid, or liquid residue generated during the processing of domestic sewage in a treatment plant. Sludge can be composed of virtually anything that a person might put in a sink, toilet, or sewer: heavy metals, pharmaceuticals, other chemicals, and human and animal wastes. Sewage sludge has been linked to serious health conditions as well as odor and air quality issues. CRPE has successfully litigated two cases on behalf of the community: Center for Biological Diversity v. San Bernardino County, case no. ----- and HelpHinkley.org v. Mojave Desert Air Quality Management District, case no.---- to force the County and the air district to require these types of facilities to use protective control technology to reduce risks to nearby communities. Due to sustained community pressure, nearly four years later, the composting facility has not been built.
Due to its location at the southwestern tip of the Central Valley, Arvin, CA has the dubious distinction of having the worst air quality in the entire nation. The community is also hosts to the Brown & Bryant superfund site. The Brown & Bryant facility operated from 1960-1989, manufacturing pesticides and fumigants. During that time, the facility was poorly managed and spilled large amounts of chemicals into the soil. The chemicals then leached into Arvin’s groundwater. The contamination was initially discovered in 1981, and in 1989 the site was formally placed on the Superfund National Priority List, a list reserved for the most polluted sites across the United States. In the following 25 years, the EPA failed to initiate a clean-up of the site. In 2007, CRPE helped to mobilize the community to pressure EPA to finally issue a clean-up plan that protects residents of Arvin and the community’s drinking water source. With CRPE’s assistance, the community group was able to get EPA to strengthen is clean-up plans and issue a final remedial action plan. CRPE also assisted the community in forcing the relocation of a chicken waste dump that was emitting nuisance odors inside the town’s borders.
Ingrid Brostrom 415.346.4179
47 Kearny Street, Suite 804 San Francisco, CA 94108
Gustavo Aguirre 661.740.9140
1302 Jefferson Street, Suite 2, Delano, CA 93215