Press Release: LA Advocates Demand Reversal of State Toxics Department Decision, Citing Racism within Agency

Contact: Monika Shankar
[email protected]
(213) 689-9170

Friday 2/12/2016, Los Angeles – Today, the Jordan Downs Environmental Justice Coalition (JDEJC), a Los Angeles-based environmental justice advocacy group, delivered a letter to Barbara Lee, director of the CA Department of Toxic Substances Control (DTSC), demanding the reversal of a No Further Action (NFA) determination issued by the department following a series of environmental tests that revealed elevated levels of toxic chemicals and heavy metals in the Jordan Downs public housing community in 2014.

Jordan Downs is currently undergoing a one billion dollar redevelopment effort which has suffered serious setbacks due to the presence of contaminants including lead and arsenic in the area. DTSC is overseeing a $31,000,000 remediation of a contaminated parcel adjacent to residences, but has largely ignored calls from the coalition for further testing and remediation in the public housing site where over half of community residents are children. The group is also demanding the immediate establishment of an independent third party compliance monitor at the site.

Citing “overtly racist attitudes” within the department that were revealed in a series of racist emails discovered in a Public Records Act request, Legal Aid Foundation of Los Angeles (LAFLA) attorney Alexander Harnden, on behalf of the coalition, criticized DTSC for losing “the community’s confidence in its ability to prioritize the health of low-income minority residents.” Senior toxicologist William Bosan, who signed the Jordan Downs NFA decision, was the key figure implicated in DTSC’s “racist email” scandal in December, 2015.

Despite widespread community outrage over the content of the emails, and the implications for the low- income communities of color that rely on DTSC to make fair and prudent decisions regarding remediation in their communities, DTSC has not reevaluated the cases overseen by the individuals implicated in the scandal. In a January 28, 2016 report to Governor Brown and the California Legislature, the DTSC Independent Review Panel (IRP) (established in 2015 and “tasked with reviewing and making recommendations regarding improvements to DTSC’s permitting, enforcement, public outreach, and fiscal management”) recommended that DTSC immediately assign staff to revisit all “No Further Action” cases in the past 5 years involving William Bosan.

According to JDEJC and Harnden’s letter:

    The NFA determination was made in the face of samples suggesting elevated levels of contaminants in the sample area, and was based on inappropriate assumptions, techniques and interpretations… Despite [samples] being clearly over the State’s action level, DTSC chose not to require additional testing to ensure the health of current and future Jordan Downs residents is protected…

    Equally disturbing is the statement from DTSC that despite being over the action levels, the sampling reflects what is encountered in other “urban areas,” and therefore requires no action… This, coupled with the racist emails sent by DTSC staff with direct oversight over the Jordan Downs area, gives us great concern that such attitudes have pervaded DTSC’s decision-making and may have influenced the NFA determination at Jordan Downs. The community has concrete fears that if immediate action is not taken, Jordan Downs will become another Exide, Love Canal, or Flint, Michigan… The communities of color which have historically been contaminated through discriminatory policies deserve a clean and healthy environment in which to live, work, study and play.

Members of the JDEJC include the Legal Aid Foundation of Los Angeles, the Natural Resources Defense Council, Physicians for Social Responsibility- LA, the LA Human Right to Housing Collective and residents of the Jordan Downs community. On January 29th, JDEJC joined the Watts Labor Community Action Committee (WLCAC) to launch the Better Watts Initiative, a collaboration that addresses the widespread environmental injustice plaguing Watts.

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