Air Pollution, Community Health, and the Power of Community Science

On November 19th, our 500 Feet and SCLA-PUSH projects, in collaboration with the University of Southern California, we successfully hosted our first “Air Pollution, Community Health, and the Power of Community Science”. This workshop was held at Esperanza Community Housing were we collaboratively trained 15 Esperanza Promotoras to verify existing land uses and conduct community air monitoring. This powerful educational model allows advocates and community residents to demonstrate environmental injustice by mapping incompatible land uses that disproportionately impact the health and lives of South Central Los Angeles residents. Our Land Use and Community Air Monitoring Ground Truthing is a tool that uses community knowledge to tell powerful stories addressing poor land development, historical negligence, and environmental racism. This tool not only helps us better understand the cumulative impacts experienced daily by South Central LA residents, but also to co-build real community driven solutions that aim to achieve a vision of a thriving and healthy South Central LA.

Our SCLA-PUSH project continues to grow the capacity of South Central LA communities to better understand air pollution sources and its impacts on health in South Central LA with a vision of co-building solutions that can take on dismantling the root cause of systematic environmental injustice practices. With SCLA-PUSH, we have hosted a series of Air Quality Academy trainings that prepare community residents to understand the sources of air pollution through community air monitoring and uplift community science and solutions through advocacy. Through our Air Quality Academies, we continue to corroborate the need for drastic investments in real solutions that prioritize protecting the communities’ health. According to the Los Angeles Health Atlas, 21% (or approximately 59,000 individuals) of Southeast LA residents live adjacent to noxious land use, a vast majority of South LA census tracts score in the top 5-10% of census tracts that are disproportionately burdened by multiple sources of industrial pollution.

South Central LA communities have long understood the problem of poor air quality, because they live it every day. And the amount of data that exists substantiates these narratives. We know that South-Central Los Angeles is overexposed to a variety of air pollutants emitted by a range of air pollution sources and health disparities are further compounded by exposure to multiple pollution sources and social stressors or incompatible land uses. Clusters of incompatible land uses are often disproportionately concentrated in disadvantaged and minority communities, wreaking havoc on the health of residents nearby. At the same time, social stressors, such as under- or unemployment, unsafe working conditions, racism, and social exclusion, make residents less able to cope with their health problems and more susceptible to disease, morbidity, and premature mortality. 

Through our 500 Feet Project, we have demonstrated that there are 1,318 hazardous sites (i.e auto-body shops) within 500 feet of 585 sensitive receptors (i.e schools). Sensitive receptors are most at risk of developing respiratory problems and other chronic diseases. In 2010, the South Central Los Angeles area had one of the highest asthma emergency visits and hospitalization rates in the county. 

Because of the direct link between air pollution, community health, and incompatible land use, our programmatic areas, Air and Climate Justice and Land Use and Health, joined forces to create a unique ground truthing educational curriculum that addresses environmental injustice through the knowledge of community residents. Communities are experts in understanding the physical and environmental landscape in their neighborhoods, because it is where they live, play, learn, worship and work on a daily basis. Therefore, the purpose of our renovated curriculum is to identify community data on incompatible land use and its link to air pollution sources and environmental stressors, with the intent of better understanding its impacts on health and quality of life through uplifting community science.

Written by Jazmine Johnson and Paula Torrado 

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