KINGS COUNTY — The fate of expansion plans for California's largest hazardous-waste landfill in Kettleman City that some blame for causing birth defects is headed to court.
A group of residents, along with two environmental groups, sued Kings County on Thursday, saying its environmental review of Chemical Waste Management's expansion plan was flawed. They say the county failed to consider impacts on air quality and public health when they approved it last month.
The project's opponents note that five babies in Kettleman City were born with cleft palates during a 15-month period beginning in 2007, and three of them died.
Kings County administrative officer Deb West maintains "all the proper steps" were taken during the permitting process.
The dump's owners say there's no evidence linking the facility to the birth defects.
People for Clean Air and Water, a group of Kettleman City residents, and Greenaction for Health and Environmental Justice said last week at a news conference before the lawsuit was filed that the county's environmental review of the project was flawed and a permit for the expansion should be thrown out.
The lawsuit is the latest attempt to stop expansion of the landfill about three miles southwest of Kettleman City. Opponents have argued it should be delayed until the cause of the birth defects is determined.
The Board of Supervisors directed county health officials on Dec. 15 to ask the state to investigate the birth defects. The landfill permit was approved Dec. 22.
The state notified the county this month that it would not conduct an investigation. Keith Winkler, health director for Kings County, said state officials told him by telephone that they don't "feel it would be fruitful for them to do a study."
The move for a study was prompted by Supervisor Richard Valle, whose district includes Kettleman City. Valle said Wednesday he had no comment on the lawsuit but plans to pursue the request for a state health investigation. "I'm not giving up on the state," he said.
Asked to comment, California Department of Public Health officials issued a written statement saying they had been looking into the concerns of the community and a link between health problems and the environment.
"We will be making our findings known to the community in the coming days and weeks," they said.
The Fresno Bee and The Associated Press contributed to this report.