Real Climate Leadership Starts With California’s Most Impacted Communities

November 30, 2017 by · Leave a Comment 

Governor Brown is currently in Europe promoting California’s climate policies at the United Nations Climate Conference. Experts from across the globe are weighing in to say that our state could be particularly hard hit by the changing climate, with extreme heat, drought and lack of access to clean water, increased storms and wildfires, sea level rise, and worsening air quality. Here on the ground in California we don’t need experts to tell us how bad things could get, they are life threatening now.

Magali Sanchez-Hall, a member of Communities for a Better Environment in South Los Angeles, lives 500 yards away from the Tesoro oil refinery in Wilmington. From her window at night, she can see the sky light up with flares from the refinery. In addition to the five major oil refineries in a nine-mile radius, multiple freeways crisscross her neighborhood, along with busy port complexes that bring heavy pollution. Most of her family suffers from asthma, so doors and windows are kept closed to avoid the toxic fumes. Every neighbor on her street has a household member who has struggled with or died from cancer.

Smelting operations at the Exide plant in Vernon were shut down by state regulators in March 2014. (Photo by Patrick Connor)

Smelting operations at the Exide plant in Vernon. (EGP Archive Photo)

The community in Wilmington is not alone. Communities living and working next to polluting factories, oil drilling and fracking sites, industrial agriculture, freeways, rail yards and freight facilities, refineries, and power plants are breathing the dirtiest air in the country, and they are already experiencing the impacts of climate change. These sources of pollution are the largest greenhouse gas emitters, and they don’t just release greenhouse gases — they also release a range of other toxic pollutants. Across California, they are disproportionately located in low-income communities and communities of color, which have less resources to adapt.

Communities throughout the state, like those in South Los Angeles and Wilmington, are looking to our legislators to step up their leadership on meaningful climate policies, but the reality is, it’s not happening. The most recent climate policy passed – extending cap and trade until 2030 – contains so many loopholes for polluters that it is unclear what level of decline we will see in California’s actual emissions and whether we will be able to reach our 2030 climate targets. Not only does California’s cap and trade program fail to address air pollution directly at the source, but data from the program reveals that in-state emissions in some sectors have actually risen. Despite reduced emissions overall, the level of smog in Southern California has worsened for the second straight year. This year’s cap and trade deal granted Big Oil major concessions, and the consequences will be felt first and worst in low-income communities and communities of color, like Magali’s, that are right next to our state’s biggest polluters.

Both the global climate crisis and the severe health burdens borne by frontline communities require that we stop extracting fossil fuels and thus phase-out both production and consumption. California continues to be one of the nation’s largest oil and gas producers, yet decision makers have failed to create a clear plan to transition off fossil fuels. Without this type of action, conditions will only worsen for more communities across the state. As the Air Resources Board works to design our carbon market, we need to close additional loopholes that will further prevent California from directly reducing emissions. Governor Brown has not made it a priority to transition off fossil fuels, and we must look to community leaders on the ground like Magali as the real climate leaders.

We have the right to live in communities where we can breathe clean air, drink clean water, and imagine a future for our children and ourselves. We must improve air quality and public health by cutting emissions directly at the source to effectively address health impacts, reduce asthma rates, and prevent respiratory cancers and other illnesses. By protecting the communities most impacted by pollution and poverty, we can create a healthier environment for all Californians. Only climate policies and solutions that place equity at the center by addressing existing climate and pollution realities of the most vulnerable communities will achieve our collective vision for a healthy, sustainable future.

Gladys Limón is executive director of California Environmental Justice Alliance (CEJA).

Exide: Nearby Residents Still Living in Fear

July 6, 2017 by · Leave a Comment 

Promises to clean up lead and other toxic waste has done little to calm the fears of people living in the shadow of the now closed Exide battery-recycling plant in Vernon, according to a just released survey.

Three out of four households surveyed during a massive volunteer outreach effort June 10 said they are concerned that they or someone in their home might get lead poisoning or cancer from the high levels of hazardous chemicals spewed from the plant for decades, the unscientific survey found.

More than 1,500 workers visited 16,000 homes in Bell, Boyle Heights, Commerce, Maywood, East Los Angeles, Huntington Park and Vernon and over 4,200 health surveys were completed during the June 10 outreach event, county health officials reported last Friday.

“The results from the survey are alarming,” County Supervisor Hilda Solis said in a statement pointing out that there are large numbers of children and pregnant women living within the 1.7 mile radius targeted as having the highest potential for lead exposure and contamination.

She added that pregnant women and children are at higher risk for “poor health outcomes from exposure to lead and arsenic.”

Exposure to even low levels of lead have been proven to cause lifelong consequences to children in the form of learning disabilities and lower IQs, as well as other health issues.

“For far too long, people around the Exide plant suffered the consequences of lead and other chemical contaminations. Our residents living near Exide deserve better monitoring and follow-up, and we will continue to work with our Department of Public Health and residents to ensure that the necessary clean-up efforts move quickly for the health of our communities,” Solis said.

—Nearly half of households reported there are children under 6 years old who live or spend time in the home or yard.

—65% of households reported that their yards were tested for lead. More than half reported that they have not received the results from soil testing.

—Nearly half of the households reported they are not satisfied with the progress of the clean up activities.

The results of the survey were no surprise to community and environmental justice activists who have long complained that state regulators are moving too slowly to complete the clean up work.

“We’re counting on our elected officials to help us get the lead out of our neighborhoods, so that residents do not continue to be exposed to a known hazardous chemical,” Monsignor John Moretta of Resurrection Church in Boyle Heights was quoted as saying in a statement released by county health officials and Solis’ office.

The survey results show “The California Department of Toxic Substances Control continues to fail these communities that have borne unconscionable health and safety burdens,” said Gladys Limón with Communities for a Better Environment, “The state has the legal and moral duty to swiftly clean up the contamination and provide necessary health services,” she said.

Iris Verduzco with East Yard Communities for Environmental Justice said it’s well known that “lead poisoning negatively impacts cognitive functions and makes educational attainment increasingly difficult. We know that Exide has been and continues to contribute to the lead poisoning that is impacting our communities, our families, and our children,” said Verduzco, explaining they have detected levels of lead “near parks and schools that are considered hazardous waste and unsafe for children and residents.”

All three activists called for urgency in completing blood and soil testing and the decontamination process.

“The survey highlights the need to act with urgency to prevent exposure to continued high levels of lead,” agreed Barbara Ferrer, PhD, MPH, MEd, director of the county’s department of public health.

She said her department is continuing to work with other county agencies “and community partners to implement the recommendations to ensure that the residents are supported in their right to live in healthy neighborhoods and homes.”

DTSC is in the process of finalizing the required Environmental Impact Report (EIR) for the decontamination process and in January the agency expedited the clean up of properties with the highest risk, including homes with children that tested positive for higher than acceptable levels of lead.

The agency will hold “office hours” today in Bell and in East Los Angeles on Monday, at which time they will help explain testing results to residents and answer any questions they may have. Another session will be held July 18 in Commerce; more details can be found in EGP’s Community Calendar.

The Exide plant permanently closed in March 2015. When Exide agreed to close the lead-acid battery recycling plant, it committed to pay $50 million for cleanup of the site and surrounding neighborhoods. Of that amount, $26 million is meant to be set aside for residential cleanup.

Gov. Jerry Brown earlier this year signed legislation providing $176.6 million in funding for environmental testing and cleanup work in neighborhoods surrounding the now-shuttered plant.

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