Cluster of birth defects brings tests

KETTLEMAN CITY -- A list of 28 chemicals known to cause birth defects was given by state officials to residents concerned about a rash of such defects here, and the officials said they would test for the chemicals in local air, water and soil.

But residents attending a public meeting last week on the issue said they want the state to put a moratorium on processing an application to expand the Waste Management hazardous waste landfill near the town, which they suspect is the source of chemical contamination causing birth defects.

About 50 residents met with California Environmental Protection Agency officials.

Assemblyman Pedro Nava, D-Santa Barbara, new chairman of the Assembly Environmental Safety and Toxic Materials Committee, attended the meeting and said afterward that he favors the moratorium and would try to get the state to honor it.

"A moratorium is a good-faith thing to do," he said.

Officials earlier said the investigation would start by mid-April and a report would be ready in September, but residents said the agency should take time for a thorough study.

Residents also asked that the state test for diesel fumes because of the number of trucks going daily to the landfill, and traveling on nearby Interstate 5 and Highway 41. Lynn Baker, an air pollution specialist for the California Air Resources Board, said diesel fuel contains benzene, so diesel fumes probably would be included in testing.

The birth defects first occurred among five babies born in a 15-month period from August 2007 to November 2008. Three of them died.

A sixth case involving a boy with hearing problems came to light later, and state health officials said this month that three babies last year and one this year were born with birth defects.

State officials released no details, but environmental advocates said a girl was born this year with heart problems who needed surgery to live.

Officials at Waste Management say there's no connection between the landfill and birth defects.