Updated 7:47 p.m. ET
California officials said Wednesday the Kettleman Hills hazardous waste dump will be allowed to grow by 50%, much to the irritation of a nearby community where residents say the dump has caused birth defects.
Officials approved expansion of the site by 5 million cubic yards, or about 50%. The dump is situated off Interstate 5 between Sacramento and Los Angeles near the small community of Kettleman City. Critics of the site say at least 11 birth defects in children from the community are the result of toxic waste from the dump but officials from the state and the company that operates the facility say there’s no evidence to support that link.
Kettleman Hills is one of just two dumps in California to accept hazardous waste and the largest in the West.
In a statement to TIME, Russ Edmonson, spokesperson for the California Department of Toxic Substances Control, disputed the claim that the dump expansion would lead to health problems.
“Our permit conditions are the most stringent possible,” he said. “They include enhanced air monitoring to verify compliance with the law, improved on-site controls to manage any spill that might occur, rigorous reporting requirements that focus the facility on preventing any releases of hazardous waste, public outreach requirements that mandate the facility meet yearly with the community to discuss compliance and other issues of community concern, and compliance with the California’s stringent 2017 truck emission standards which will require that any truck bringing in hazardous waste meet that standard three years before it becomes effective for the rest of the state.”
Edmonson added that unannounced inspections of the site will be increased from once per year to quarterly.