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Press Release: Jordan Environmental Justice Coalition Statement

Monday, May 2, 2016

CONTACT
Thelmy Perez, LA Human Right to Housing Collective
thelmyp@cangress.org
(323) 620-4546

Los Angeles CA, March 13, 2017 – The Jordan Downs Environmental Justice Coalition, composed of Jordan Downs residents, community based organizations and advocacy groups, issued the following statement today related to a lawsuit filed by the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) against the Housing Authority of the City of Los Angeles (HACLA):

Earlier this month, a lawsuit was filed in U.S. District Court against HACLA by LAUSD based on the alleged contamination of an LAUSD school site from an adjacent contaminated property owned by HACLA. Among multiple allegations, the suit asserts that HACLA “knew that that the contamination was spreading to adjacent properties in all directions, including the School site; knew that the contamination consisted of heavy metals that are known carcinogens; and it knew or should have known that the school immediately adjacent to the HACLA Site contained a sensitive population and that there were children and school staff occupying the School Site daily, who could potentially be exposed to contaminants discharged, emanating, or flowing from the HACLA Site.” Alarmingly, LAUSD also states in the lawsuit that HACLA informed LAUSD that it would not investigate beyond the boundaries of its toxic site because to do so “would put its application for grant funds at risk.”

The disclosure of the content of discussions between LAUSD and HACLA officials reveals what JDEJC has suspected all along – HACLA prioritizes the Jordan Downs redevelopment project, of which the Factory Site is a key component, at the expense of the health and wellbeing of long-standing community members and their children. Since Fall 2013, LAUSD, and organizations, and residents working with the Jordan Downs Environmental Justice Coalition (JDEJC) have separately urged HACLA to ensure the protection of local children and families from toxic substances discovered at a 21-acre former steel mill (the Factory Site) purchased by HACLA to further its efforts to redevelop the Jordan Downs public housing community. As HACLA has carried out State-mandated remediation of the Factory Site, JDEJC has continually requested that HACLA perform an area-wide assessment of the surrounding properties, including the Jordan Downs public housing development and David Starr Jordan High School, in order to ensure local residents are protected. There is great concern in the community given the historical heavy industrial uses at the site, the dangerous levels of toxic contaminants found there recently and HACLA’s own admission in 2009 and 2010 inter-agency memos that the adjacent Jordan Downs public housing site “might also suffer from environmental contamination and therefore might require remediation.” HACLA has refused to test beyond the boundaries of the Factory Site absent an official order from the Department of Toxic Substances Control (DTSC).

Following strong community pressure, DTSC instructed HACLA to test the adjacent areas of Jordan Downs along the perimeter of the Site in 2014, but the agency quickly issued a “No Further Action” determination despite that over half of HACLA’s samples showed elevated levels of lead and/or arsenic. That determination was challenged and has been under review for over a year. Frustrated by HACLA’s disregard for the health of the Jordan Downs, Jordan High and greater Watts community, local community members took matters into our own hands in early 2016 and took surface readings of parts of the Jordan Downs neighborhood with an Xray Fluorescence (XRF) device. The readings that were collected showed elevated levels of lead, arsenic and other toxins, a reason for concern and the need for thorough testing; DTSC agreed and made a recommendation that HACLA perform more tests in August, 2016. Instead of performing follow-up tests to ensure resident health would not be put at risk by the redevelopment, HACLA attempted to discredit the community and shunned the readings as “not scientific.”

JDEJC is appalled by the continued indifference HACLA and local and state officials have demonstrated time and time again for the health and wellbeing of Jordan Downs, Jordan High, and the entire Watts community. We commend LAUSD for taking the important step of exposing the morally corrupt attitude and actions of HACLA towards the Jordan High community of students, teachers, parents and administrators and renew our call for an area-wide environmental assessment of the Jordan Downs redevelopment area, health protective conditions for the redevelopment project, and dedicated free health services for all local residents.

The Jordan Downs Environmental Justice Coalition is comprised of Jordan Downs residents, the Los Angeles Community Action Network, Physicians for Social Responsibility – Los Angeles, and the Legal Aid Foundation of Los Angeles.