On April 6th Huerta del Valle members joined Communities for a Better Environment (CBE) on one of their neighborhood tours lead by community members and organizers at their office. We learned a lot about South East Los Angeles (Hyde Park, Boyle Heights, Willmington, Vernon, San Pedro and other cities) and some of the ways communities there are working to create healthier environments.
The tour started with a workshop lead by the CBE staff featuring some history and maps of the area. We learned a lot from this and took good notes to help us in creating our own tour.
The CBE Staff then showed us their neighborhood. They shared with us how their neighborhood grew and developed into what we see today. Then they showed us around pointing out a lot of places where polluting industry is making their neighborhoods less healthy and is polluting everyone's air, soil, and water. They also shared with us the ways that industry has changed their neighborhood drastically, but without consulting the community on their opinions. Time and again when the community was consulted they prefered things like green spaces, parks, and schools over polluting industries. It only takes asking to find out.
Many small businesses are closed down due to the recession and the cities have responded by bringing in Wal-Mart, Target, and other big name companies even though the community may not be for it. We saw one of these large companies, central metal, where many community members were being polluted by metal dust and had to stand up to question the practices of this big company. We were told stories that community members could taste coins in their mouths from all of the dust.
The LA river is completely covered in concrete in South East LA. The tour guides mentioned to us that further north there is a much nicer part of the river, but down in South East LA it is pure concrete. The guides also told us about a giant mound of concrete rubble that they had to organize to move because it was causing cancer. Some of that concrete was used to build this new rail system to bring more goods from the ports out east to distribution centers like the ones in Ontario. Though it was promised that this would decrease truck traffic the price of train delivery went up and so more trucks are used anyway.
At each stop they taught us to recognize toxic facilities in our environment using our senses of smell, sight, taste, touch and hearing. You can read signs like these that tell you from 1-4 how toxic a facility is (4 is the most dangerous). Exide recycles car batteries and is so toxic that if there was a fire- water could not be used to put it out.
We can use our ears to hear how many trucks and trains go by making loud noise and put diesel particulate into the air. We can use our nose to smell toxins like the ones coming from the animal rendering plant where they dispose of dead animal bodies. Unfortunately this makes the entire place stink and toxifies the soil.
We learned that schools can also be toxic because they are often built on cheap land that has not been cleaned up. Many schools are built on brown-fields like this one where chromium-6 was dumped for many years before the school was built. Conveniently there was a big chromed-out truck parked right in front of the school.
We also got a glimpse of where 40% of the consumer goods we have in the US come from. The port of LA and Long Beach bring in products from around the world and distribute them as far as Chicago and New York. Thousands of Diesel trucks pass this site everyday many heading for places in the IE to drop cargo. Billions of dollars of revenue are made from this site, while millions of pounds of pollution are also generated. We learned that the folks who are making money from the ports do not choose to live near them because they are too polluted but some people do live there.
At the port we saw many oil refineries like BP and Conoco Phillips and their smoke stacks. We learned that the higher the stacks are the more polluting the exhaust that comes out of them is. We saw over and over that working class communities of color are affected most by this pollution and it tends to follow them into their neighborhoods. We heard that CBE and other organizations have worked with these communities to create alternatives to this by organizing, suing polluting facilities, doing research and surveys of community opinions, and working with youth to educate the community about these issues that make health very challenging.
At the end of the day it really is all about the youth who are growing up in this environment. How do we make alternatives? What would a really healthy and sustainable environment look like? What does a healthy school and healthy neighborhood look like and how can we word towards it?