EPA faults Waste Management's lab results

KETTLEMAN CITY -- A hazardous-waste landfill suspected by residents of causing birth defects has been inaccurately testing treated contaminants for five years, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency says.

Waste Management officials at the site in Kettleman Hills said they immediately began using an independent testing laboratory when the EPA notified them of the problem with their lab.

But the company disagrees that its laboratory was producing flawed results.

"We believe the findings in the EPA letter are inaccurate and based on a misinterpretation of test results," said Brian Bowen, Waste Management's director of environmental protection.

It is the second time this year that the EPA has announced a serious problem at the landfill. In April, the agency ordered Waste Management to correct flawed disposal practices for PCBs (polychlorinated biphenyls, found in transformers and coolants).

The laboratory problems are significant, EPA officials said.

"When we see a problem repeated over time, it's something of serious concern to us," said Jared Blumenfeld, EPA administrator for the Pacific Southwest region.

Waste Management could face penalties up to $37,500 per day for violations.

The problem presents another obstacle to the Waste Management's efforts to expand the landfill about three miles from Kettleman City.

Kings County supervisors approved an expansion permit in December, but state and federal agencies have not signed off.