What’s Killing the Babies of Kettleman City?

Maybe it’s the toxic waste dump. Maybe the pesticides, or the diesel fumes, or the arsenic. How a small-town mystery could change the way we look at pollution.

Photo by Justin Maxon

Jacques Leslie — Mother Jones 

THE FIRST BABY’S NAME was America. She was born in September 2007, with Down syndrome, two heart murmurs, and part of her upper lip missing. She couldn’t suck from a nipple, so her mother, Magdalena Romero, would stay up through the night to feed her with a special tube. America showed pleasure in music and delighted in being held by her four siblings. Magdalena thinks they felt a special tenderness for her because of her vulnerability. 

Hospital officials told Magdalena that the baby wouldn’t live a year, but she didn’t want to believe it. Then, one morning when America was nearly five months old, her lips turned purple. Concluding that paramedics would consider a rescue futile, Magdalena drove the baby to the hospital herself and insisted that all efforts be made to save her. For a few days, America survived, tethered to machines. Then she died in her mother’s arms. 

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