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South L.A. Residents Face Staggering Environmental Health and Justice Problems

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This is part of a series exploring environmental and health issues in South Los Angeles, produced in partnership with the California Endowment.
South Los Angeles is a community rich with culture and unique identity, with a strong history of progressive activism. From the bustling Central Avenue jazz scene, through the turbulent years surrounding the Watts Riots, to the golden age of music and poetry in Leimert Park, the area has seen its fair share of time in the spotlight, for better or worse.

But along with that rich cultural and political history, there is an ignored story. "Mainly, it's the story of the staggering environmental health and justice problems facing the community," says Martha Dina Argüello, Executive Director of Physicians for Social Responsibility-Los Angeles (PSR-LA), an organization that advocates for policies and practices that improve public health, eliminate environmental and nuclear threats, and address health inequalities. Recently, the California EPA identified South L.A. as one of the most polluted areas in the state. Data released in the 2013 Los Angeles Health Atlas revealed that a South L.A. resident will live five years less than one living other parts of Los Angeles. In addition, South L.A. residents are more likely to die from coronary heart disease, diabetes, and stroke than residents living in other parts of Los Angeles.

As part of the California Endowment's South Los Angeles Building Healthy Communities initiative, PSR-LA has partnered with community organizations to host a conference that invites advocates and residents to explore these environmental and health concerns that affect South Los Angeles, and bring awareness to this threat. "Environmental Health Challenges Facing South Los Angeles," co-sponsored by L.A. Community Action Network (LACAN), Strategic Action for a Just Economy (SAJE), Black Women for Wellness (BWW), and Esperanza Community Housing Corporation, will be held this Saturday, August 16, at Holman United Methodist Church in West Adams, South L.A. Topics to be discussed at the conference include:

  • Get the Lead Out: Jordan Downs & Brownfields At a public housing complex in Watts, contaminated soil is affecting the health of its residents.
  • Transforming Vacant Spaces to Healthy Places If you could make an empty lot into anything, what would you make?
  • Perfectly Natural & Totally Toxic: The Beauty Industry What we use on our bodies may not be good for our health
  • Hands On, Hands Off: Toxic Chemicals in Our Homes How can cleaning products used inside our homes be safe and healthy?
  • Clearing the Air, Cooling the Hood: Toxics in the Air Near Freeways South L.A.'s proximity to major freeways may be making its residents sick
  • Hidden Dangers: the Oil Under Our Feet What are the negative health effects of oil wells located near residential areas?
  • Climate Change in South L.A.: Let's Turn Down the Heat How can we help reduce the effects of climate change in our own communities?

KCET Departures is partnering with the organizations to produce an editorial series based on the topics explored at the conference. These articles, which will be published here on in the weeks following the conference, will allow advocates and community members voice their views and concerns about these issues.
Residents of South L.A. face exposure to many forms of pollution due to its proximity to factories, industries, and high-density freeways, as well as oil extraction sites that produce harmful emissions. Argüello says that the conference will allow participants to "share and build a collective knowledge about the environmental health issues facing South Los Angeles" and, more importantly, "build collective power to solve these problems and improve the health of residents of South Los Angeles."

Environmental Health Challenges Facing South Los Angeles
Saturday, August 16, 2014
10:00 a.m.-4:00 p.m.
Holman United Methodist Church
3320 West Adams Blvd
Los Angeles, CA 90018

To attend conference, you can reach out to Monika Shankar at PSR-LA: More details here. To get involved in any of the environmental health issues areas discussed at the conference, visit for a full program and list of speakers who are engaged in these campaigns on the ground.

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