Los Angeles – Community organizations in California have sued the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to force it to take action against toxic waste dumps they say have damaged the health of low-income Hispanics.
"There are many factors that are poisoning this area," Maria Saucedo, a 44-year-old resident of Kings County, where one of the state's three toxic landfills are located, told Efe.
"And obviously because of what happened to me, that my (infant) daughter died, I want to move or for them to close those areas or stop giving permits so they don't keep bringing waste from other places that's poisoning us," she added.
Saucedo is one of five mothers who bore children with cleft lip and/or palate between 2007 and 2009 in Kettleman City, a small community of mainly Hispanic farmworkers, while six other children were born there with brain or heart defects.
Saucedo's daughter and two other infants with cleft lip died.
Maricela Mares-Alatorre, an activist with the group El Pueblo Para El Aire y Agua Limpio/People for Clean Air and Water and resident of Kettleman City, told Efe that the combination of pesticide spraying in nearby fields, the toxic waste facility and the exhaust from trucks hauling waste to the dump could have caused the birth defects.
On May 30, her group and several other organizations filed a lawsuit against EPA chief Lisa P. Jackson in a federal court in Fresno, California.
The plaintiffs claim the EPA failed to respond within the mandated time to a complaint filed 17 years ago against the California Department of Toxic Substances Control, which grants permits for the state's toxic dump sites.
Studies show cleft lip normally occurs in one of every 1,000 newborns, according to Mares-Alatorre, who noted that five children were born with that defect over a period of two years in Kettleman City, which is home to just 1,500 inhabitants.
"I only know what it says in the state's (December 2010) report on birth defects, where it said that although they couldn't find what caused the birth defects they're aware that we're surrounded by several contamination sources," she said.
"And they said the way for children not to be born that way is to reduce those contamination sources," according to the activist, who said the well water in her community contains traces of benzene and arsenic.
Besides the facility at Kettleman, California has only two other toxic waste dumps, and both are likewise located in or near low-income mainly Hispanic communities.
"It's environmental racism," Mares-Alatorre says.
"In Kettleman City, they ask us what we want them to do with the waste, that the waste has to go somewhere, and we're aware it has to be treated," she adds. "But what we ask ourselves is why they don't put it in a neighborhood like Beverly Hills."
Lily Quiroa, spokeswoman for Chemical Waste Management, the firm that operates the landfill in Kettleman City, told Efe that the accusations that the toxic waste site affects the health of inhabitants of local communities are false.
The landfill is situated "on layers of rock and therefore does not contaminate the water; besides, three health studies have concluded that there's no connection with what's happening in the town of Kettleman," Quiroa said.
For her part, EPA spokeswoman Margot Perez-Sullivan told Efe that her agency "cannot comment on pending litigation."