Dozens of protesters held a rally outside the regional headquarters of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in San Francisco today to call on the agency to ensure environmental justice for communities in the Bay Area and elsewhere in California.

Jared Blumenfeld, who took over this month as administrator for the EPA’s Pacific Southwest region, attended the rally to listen to the concerns of community members and vowed to find answers for the protesters’ questions.

The primary issue at the rally, organized by the environmental advocacy group Greenaction, was Kettleman City, a town in the San Joaquin Valley that is located next to a toxic waste dump that community members blame for birth defects and other health problems.

Maria Saulcedo, a Kettleman City resident whose child Ashley died after being born with a cleft palate, called on EPA officials to take away the permit that allows the company Chemical Waste Management to continue dumping toxic chemicals at the nearby landfill.

“We do not want this to continue,” Saulcedo said via translator.

“We don’t want our community to continue being contaminated.”

Bay Area community members also called on the EPA to protect the health of communities such as Bayview-Hunters Point in San Francisco, Midway Village in Daly City, and areas of Richmond near the Chevron refinery.

“It is our hope that the EPA under this new regime will now learn what justice is and will learn to speak for the people,” Marie Harrison, a Greenaction community organizer, said.

Blumenfeld, who took over as the head of the regional office after spending eight years as the director of San Francisco’s Department of the Environment, said he planned to visit Kettleman City and the landfill on Feb. 3.

Blumenfeld pledged to look into the possible connection between the landfill and the handful of babies recently born in the area who suffered birth defects such as cleft palates.

He also said he is ordering an internal review of all recent enforcement actions to ensure that all actions “that could happen, did happen” to protect local communities.

Blumenfeld sympathized with parents at the rally who had children who suffered birth defects, saying he has two children of his own.

“Children are the most important thing in my life, and I know they are in your lives too,” he said.

“When your child is born with a birth defect, your life is turned upside down,” he said.

“When then it happens to a neighbor across the street, and someone else that you’ve heard of, all in a timeframe, you have to ask questions. Why is this happening?
“That’s why you’re here today, for answers, and I’m on that same quest with you, I want answers,” Blumenfeld said.

Following the rally, community members that had traveled from Kettleman City went inside EPA offices to talk about the health issues with Blumenfeld and other agency officials.

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