State health officials briefed the Kings County Board of Supervisors with their preliminary results Tuesday morning and then held a community meeting at an elementary school in Kettleman City in the evening.
Before the meeting, marchers held signs and demanded justice and mothers of three children born with cleft palates and lips held pictures of their babies. They said the investigations have them hopeful. But inside, reaction to the preliminary findings was mixed. Dr. Rick Kreutzer told the crowd since 1987, the overall number of birth defects is not higher than expected and so far, nothing indicates a pattern in the birth defects. "They're all different and they suggest, or it doesn't really suggest that they have a common cause. Because in general, we think each kind of birth defect has a different set of causes together that may be responsible," said Dr. Kreutzer.
State health officials said four birth defects in a single year, 2008, is higher than expected and said they're working to find out why.
Some blame a nearby toxic landfill. It's run by Waste Management, who denies any wrongdoing and says it welcomes the state's investigation.
But at Tuesday's meeting, some said it appears the health department is already using numbers to mislead the community. "They said it was nothing unusual. But the way they did that is they spread out the numbers over not two years, but 22, and averaged it out. Very unacceptable!" said Bradley Angel, an activist with Greenaction.
State health officials interviewed families affected by the birth defects for the first time Tuesday and stressed that their work in Kettleman City is just beginning. Meanwhile, U.S. Senator Barbara Boxer issued a statement saying the hazardous waste site there should not be expanded until there are conclusive results about the impact on the community.