KETTLEMAN CITY, Calif. -- The largest toxic waste facility in the West rejected a proposal by Boeing Co. and NASA to accept tainted soil from the site of a partial nuclear meltdown.
Chemical Waste Management, which operates the San Joaquin dump, sent a letter Tuesday to Linda Adams, head of the state Environmental Protection Agency, saying the facility would not accept the hazardous waste "because of the uncertainty and community concerns about levels of radioactive constituents in these materials."
The dump just outside the tiny farming town of Kettleman City, halfway between Los Angeles and San Francisco, is not licensed to accept radioactive waste. The dirt was dug up as part of a cleanup effort at the Santa Susana Field Laboratory near Los Angeles where thousands of rockets were tested and a partial meltdown of a nuclear reactor took place in 1959.
While the decision was ultimately to be made by the California Department of Toxic Substances Control, Boeing asked the Department of Public Health to review the proposal. The agency said the Santa Susana waste did not represent a public health threat.
Boeing has said publicly it could send the dirt to a landfill in Utah that is permitted to accept radioactive waste.
Residents in the Spanish-speaking town of 1,500 cheered the decision. Many worried more nuclear waste would follow if the landfill accepted the tainted soil.
"It's a great victory for Kettleman City and our allies that worked on this," said Bradley Angel with Greenaction, one of the groups that opposed the waste coming to Kettleman.
The community has been fighting a Kings County decision to approve the dump's expansion despite concerns raised about health problems and birth defects.
Of 20 children known to have been born in Kettleman City between September 2007 and November 2008, five had a cleft in their palate or lips, according to a health survey by activists. Three of those children have since died.
Statewide, clefts of the lip or palate routinely occur in fewer than one in 800 births, according to California health statistics.
Last week the state turned down a request for a full investigation into the birth defects.