Kettleman City families might never know exactly what caused 11 infants to be born with birth defects between 2007 and March 31 of this year.
In a report released by the California Environmental Protection Agency and the state Department of Public Health their comprehensive investigation found no common cause for the rash of birth defects in the impoverished community of about 1,500 people which is predominantly farmworkers.
“While we wish there was an explanation for what caused the birth defects experienced by the children we studied in Kettleman City, our investigation finds that no common health or environmental factor links the cases,” CDPH director Dr. Mark Horton said in a statement.
An investigation was ordered by Gov. Schwarzenegger in January of this year. After 10 long months investigating the crisis the state investigation has provided single cause but concluded that while there were more children born with birth defects in 2008 and 2009 than would be expected in such a small community, the defects were not the same, suggesting there was not a community-wide cause for the conditions.
According to the report, some children had specific syndromes involving multiple birth defects, and others had single defects.
The state investigation analyzed potential risk factors for the birth defects in the 93 percent Latino community, including genetic, medical, or pregnancy-related risk factors; behavioral and lifestyle risk factors; and the potential for environmental and occupational exposures.
The investigation ruled out the possibility that mothers’ health or lifestyle could have caused the birth defects.
Through in-depth interviews with six of the 11 mothers of babies born with birth defects, the investigation found that the mothers received good prenatal care while they were pregnant, and did not use tobacco, alcohol or illegal drugs — activities which can cause health problems and birth defects in babies.
Testing the air, soil and water around the community and Waste Management’s Kettleman Hills Facility reveled no specific environmental factors that could have caused the birth defects.
Kettleman City community members and their advocates have often cited Kettleman Hills, a controversial hazardous waste site located 3-1/2 miles from the residential area, as a potential source of the health problems. But the study found no evidence that the site had caused water or air contamination in the Kettleman City community.
The investigation also concluded that it is unlikely that pesticides caused the birth defects.
While the state investigation did not discover an environmental cause for the birth defects, it did find environmental conditions in the community that could negatively affect human health.
According to the report, state agencies found arsenic — at levels higher than state standards — in the wells that supply the town’s water and in water from home taps. Investigators also found low levels of lead in a town well and in the well that provides water for the elementary school.
While these water contaminants likely did not cause the birth defects, state agencies have called for reduced arsenic levels in the community’s drinking water, and improved drinking water for Kettleman City residents.
If you or someone you know has been exposed to toxic chemicals that have caused birth defects contact the experienced birth defect lawyers at Alexander Law Group, LLP, LLP for a free and confidential consultation.