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State Approves Expansion of Kettleman Hills Toxic Waste Facility

California Department of Public Health


After 6 years, the state of California has approved the expansion of a toxic waste landfill near Kettleman City. The decision will allow the landfill to expand by 50%, or 5 million cubic yards, which owners at Waste Management Incorporated estimate will last about 8 years.

Jim Marxen is a spokesperson for the California Department of Toxic Substances Control.

Marxen: We didn't take this decision very lightly…For the last 5 1/2 to 6 years, we have been doing a lot of look at scientific studies, meeting with the community, working with other agencies to see if this facility has any impact on the community's health or the environment.

The decision comes with new conditions: better monitoring, more frequent inspections, heightened emissions standards for delivery trucks, and increased community involvement.

Kettleman City resident and activist Maricela Mares Alatorre says the community is disappointed by the decision.

Mares Alatorre: We had hoped that the fact that it took them so long to actually get the permit decision out meant that they were actually considering the ramifications of adding to the environmental pollution burden in Kettleman City, but obviously we were wrong.

Kettleman City already faces compromised air quality, emissions from two nearby highways, and pesticides from adjacent farmland. Mares Alatorre is concerned the latest expansion could lead to others in the future. 

Mares Alatorre: What happens after these 8 years that they're at capacity again, what's the next step, are they going to finally bring in California's first toxic incinerator?

Opponents have until June 23 to appeal the decision.

Kerry Klein is an award-winning reporter whose coverage of public health, air pollution, drinking water access and wildfires in the San Joaquin Valley has been featured on NPR, KQED, Science Friday and Kaiser Health News. Her work has earned numerous regional Edward R. Murrow and Golden Mike Awards and has been recognized by the Association of Health Care Journalists and Society of Environmental Journalists. Her podcast Escape From Mammoth Pool was named a podcast “listeners couldn’t get enough of in 2021” by the radio aggregator NPR One.
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