East LA Residents Say Construction Plans Add Up to Environmental Racism

July 2, 2015 by No Comments

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Residents of East Los Angeles, a predominantly Latino area, are expressing concerns that further light rail or freeway construction in the area will expose them and their children to harmful pollution.

“I’ve had enough of those who want to continue taking advantage of East L.A. because we are Latinos,” said Carmen Gonzalez, who lives at Mednik and Third Street, near the site of a proposed light rail station. She was speaking at a public meeting held in June to discuss a draft environmental report on alternatives for closing the gap between the 710 (Long Beach) and 210 (Pasadena) freeways.

“Think about the health of our children; emissions affect our community,” another speaker said.

Living with significant traffic pollution can lead women to give birth to premature or low-weight babies, which in turn increases risk for asthma; ear, nose and throat infections; obesity; and even learning and developmental disorders such as autism. One in 68 children, on average, has an autism spectrum disorder — one in 42 boys and one in 189 girls — but Latino and African American children are at much higher risk than white children. There’s much disagreement among scientists as to why that is, with some even blaming vaccinations given to minority children, but it’s likely that environment is a factor in some way.

That can be devastating, especially as Hispanic children are already the group most likely to face developmental delays.

Adults who are exposed to pollution are more likely to have heart disease, stroke, lung problems and memory loss.

Multiple residents who submitted testimony or spoke in person at the meeting expressed the belief that they are victims of environmental racism, being subjected to negative health impacts by a project that they’ve had little influence over and that is unlikely to benefit the immediate area.

The East Los Angeles Chamber of Commerce is advocating that a tunnel be built between the two freeways, saying that option will alleviate traffic better than further rail construction and put less strain on the community.

Comments on the draft report, which is available in full online, will be accepted through August 5. They should be sent by mail to Garret Damrath, Caltrans Division of Environmental Planning, at 100 S. Main St., MS-16; Los Angeles, CA 90012.

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