Where a resident lives goes a long way in determining their life expectancy and quality of life. A growing body of scientific evidence shows that how we shape the built environment has an impact on public health. For example, studies have shown that by reducing cars and instead focusing on walking and bike infrastructure, we can significant decrease diabetes. And with fewer cars on the road, we improve air quality and reduce asthma. The same is true for where we site industry: living, working and playing near industry can have severe health impacts for nearby communities.
South Los Angeles is home to a range of industries, from auto body shops and gas station, to metal recycling and garment manufacturing. Many of these industries are located close to residential neighborhoods and schools. Industry can expose nearby residents to toxic pollutants and cause health harm. According to the Los Angeles Health Atlas, 21% (or approximately 59,000 individuals) of Southeast LA residents live adjacent to noxious land uses. And according to CalEnviroScreen (the Environmental Screening Tool of the Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment), South LA scores in the top 5-10% of communities that are disproportionately burdened by multiple sources of industrial pollution, including hazardous waste generators, and contaminated tracts of land.
Exposure to industrial pollution, whether by air, land or water, can have serious impacts on health. Industrial sources of pollution have been known to emit toxic air pollutants such as particulate matter, as well as leave behind land contamination such as lead and arsenic. These pollutants are known to cause a range of health issues, including asthma, cancer, low birth weight and developmental issues, among others. Being exposed to multiple sources of pollution is also evident in the health profile of South LA. According to the Health Atlas, the leading cause of death in Service Planning Area South – the Service Planning area that includes South LA – is coronary heart disease, followed by stroke and lung cancer. In comparison to the rest of the county, zip codes within and adjacent to South and South East Los Angeles have the highest rates of hospitalization and emergency department visits due to asthma for both adults and children.
While everyone can be affected by toxic exposures in their environment, low-income communities and communities of color are disproportionately burdened by environmental health hazards caused by poorly crafted policies and planning decisions that do not take their health into consideration. South Los Angeles is primarily a community of color, and an example of this trend, with 70% of its population being Latino, 24% African American, and 2% Asian Pacific Islander.