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Health, Environment, Poverty
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North America
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pollution, contamination, toxic waste, industry, waste, USA, California
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A documentary project on Kettleman City, California, where a preponderance of environmental toxins result in severe birth defects.
Justin Maxon

2008 — student runner-up

Documenting Kettleman City, California, a community of farm workers midway between Los Angeles and San Francisco. The city is a toxic environment with contaminated water, heavy air pollution, and exposure to dangerous pesticides. Between 2008 and 2010, at least 11 babies have been born with severe birth defects, reported Mother Jones, a dramatic increase from the average one a year prior to 2008.  

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A child plays in the street in Kettlemen City, CA. Justin Maxon/Alexia Foundation
Maura Alatorre, 26, with her son Emmanuel Alatorre, 2, and niece Cytlali Audrade, 2, center, in her home in Kettleman City, CA. Emmanuel was born with a number of birth defects, including a cleft pallet and Agenesis of the Corpus Callosum, which is a birth defect that effects the development of that particular segment of the brain. Justin Maxon/Alexia Foundation
Pictures of America Romero, and a cross with her name on it, adorn a shelf in the living room of the Romero family. America  was the first deformed baby in Kettlman City. She was born blind, missing part of her brain and part of her upper lip, with Down Syndrome and two heart murmurs. She passed away nearly 5 months after she was born. Since America's birth, the number of similarly tormented Kettleman City families has risen. Justin Maxon/Alexia Foundation
An aerial view of Kettlman City, CA. Justin Maxon/Alexia Foundation
Maura Alatorre, 26, center, holds a picture of her son, Emmanuel Alatorre, who was born with a number of birth defects, and Magdalena Romero, 33, left, holds her a picture of her daughter, America Romero, who passed away in 2008, next to other Kettlemen City residents who have had loved born with birth defects, at a community meeting with the EPA. Community members got to ask questions and voice their frustration about the rising number of children born with various birth defects. Justin Maxon/Alexia Foundation
Alondra Romero, 6, center, with her friends, Abel Ceja, 6, left of center, Sunny Flores, 7, right of center, and relative, Melanie Romero, 7, right. Alondra is daughter to Magdalena Romero, who lost a daughter in 2008 after she was born with a number of birth defects. Justin Maxon/Alexia Foundation
Farm workers from the area, soon to be picking blueberries, wait for their morning work to begin at Family Tree Farms, which has been in operation for the last 11 years. The Farm employs a number of Kettleman City residents. The workers make $3.05 a bucket or .81 cents a pound of blueberries. Justin Maxon/Alexia Foundation
Ivan Rodriguez, 1, left, with his mother, Daria Hernandez, 23, and father, Ivan Rodriguez, 29. Ivan was born with a cleft pallet. He has had two surgery in the past year to correct the defect, one at 1 1/2 months old for his lip, and the other around his first birthday, to fix his pallet. Before he had the most recent surgery he couldn't eat solid food, but now he is eating normally. Justin Maxon/Alexia Foundation
Juan Rodarte, 45, left, reaches for a beer in the front yard of his friends home. Rodarte worked as a farm labor in the Kettleman City area for the last 20 years. He currently has a large tumor on his neck. More than half of Kettleman City's labor force consists of farmworkers who are routinely exposed to toxic pesticides. Residents can smell the chemicals sprayed on the fields that border the town. Justin Maxon/Alexia Foundation
Power lines are seen in the distance, Kettleman City, CA. Justin Maxon/Alexia Foundation