Boyle Heights is a community (located in Los Angeles) that is surrounded by freeways, railroads, auto repair shops, warehouses and factories — all of which can pose potential health hazards. According to Manuel Pastor, an expert in environmental justice, “when you put them all clustered together in one neighborhood, you wind up with sort of a toxic soup.”
Pastor is one of several experts involved in ALERT, a project run by the UCLA Center for Health Policy Research’s Health DATA Program, that seeks to link communities affected by air pollution with data and expertise that can help them advocate for an improved environment.
Pastor was interviewed as part of a KCET news segment that featured researchers and community groups (such as the East Los Angeles Community Corporation and Union De Vecinos) that are working together for cleaner air in Boyle Heights. By consulting with experts and expert sources (such as government websites) and comparing the facts and data they amass with the reality of life in their neighborhoods – a process called “Ground Truthing” -- these local groups found that air pollution levels in Boyle Heights were much higher than recommended state levels. In fact, six schools in the neighborhood were closer than the recommended distance of 500 feet from major highways.
Leticia Andrade, a resident of Boyle Heights and graduate of the UCLA Center for Health Policy Research’s ALERT Project knows that the air is polluted in her community. “You can see it. You wake up, and the day is really gray, and it only gets worse in the evening. And it smells. You feel that you can’t even breathe.”
According to the data from the UCLA Center for Health Policy Research, children and adults who suffer from asthma and live near heavy vehicular traffic are nearly three times more likely to visit the emergency room or be hospitalized for their condition.
While there is alot of work to be done in the Boyle Heights community, there are encouraging signs of progress:
1) Local groups such as Clean Up Green Up are working with residents and businesses to create more green zones.
2) The South Coast Air Quality Mananagement District approved a pilot program that will provide air filtration systems in some schools in Boyle Heights.
2) The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency provided a grant to the ACE Beverage Company to have 25 of their diesel trucks meet new, stricter emission standards.
Watch the KCET video segment: Up in the Air: The Fight for Clean Air in Boyle Heights
Learn more about the UCLA Center for Health Policy’s ALERT Project (part of the Health DATA Program)