September 22, 2000

Forces Converge to Address Barrio's Air Toxics Problems

Much needed federal and state attention is coming to the Barrio Logan/Logan Heights communities. At the federal level, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has just designated the area as a Federal Interagency Environmental Justice Demonstration Project; at the state level, The California Air Resources Control Board plans to build upon its existing air monitoring program in Barrio Logan and Program. Both of these actions will focus resources and expertise to analyze cumulative impacts from air toxics on local residents, but the question remains: Will the spotlight move local regulators to take steps to solve these long-standing problems?

EPA EJ Demonstration Project

The Environmental Justice Demonstration Project acknowledges the perseverance of the community in tackling air pollution problems. "A major goal of environmental justice is to identify processes whereby affected communities are actively engaged in resolving environmental problems that adversely impact their quality of life," stated Clarice Gaylord, U.S. EPA Region 9 Senior Policy Advisor, in her nominating paper. "The residents of Barrio Logan through the environmental Health Coalition have been a major community-driven force in this area."

The designation is also a recognition of the severity of the problems facing the community. The EPA' estimate of the respiratory health hazard index for the area is 100-200 times above acceptable levels. This disproportionate environmental exposure appears to be linked to health problems in the area, where asthma and other respiratory illnesses are up to four times higher than the national prevalence rate.

The Environmental Justice Demonstration Project creates a collaborative partnership, with at least two federal agencies working with community members and other stakeholders. The second federal agency will be the National Institute for Environmental Health Sciences.

Neighborhood Assessment Program: Community Involvement Pays Off

The California Air Resources Control Board (CARB) will also be one of those partners. At the community's urging, the CARB agreed to finance a one-year air toxics monitoring program at Memorial Academy in Logan Heights in the fall of 1999.

The community, with technical assistance from the University of Southern California, was instrumental in selecting the compounds to be tested and in selecting the actual site placement for the monitor through the creation of a Barrio Logan Air Monitoring Workgroup. The workgroup meets bimonthly and reviews preliminary data resulting from the air monitor. As a result of this effort, as well as the passage of state legislation requiring additional monitoring at schools, CARB has announced that the Barrio Logan Air Monitoring Project will be expanded and used as the model for their new Neighborhoods Assessment Program. In addition to the date from the air monitoring station, CARB is assembling a comprehensive inventory of potential sources of air pollution in the area. They plan to duplicate this community-based involvement and participation effort in other California low-income, communities of color.

Environmental Health Coalition looks forward to working with all the project partners to reduce pollution and improve health.

EHC Receives Prestigious NIEHS Grant

Community empowerment is the force that propels change, and it is the guiding principal of the Environmental Justice: Partnerships for Communications program. Developed by the National Institute for Environmental Health Sciences, this program respects the collective knowledge of communities and creates partnerships to make certain this voice is not ignored by regulators, academics, researchers, and health professionals.

The Environmental Health Coalition (EHC) has just been notified that its "Clean Air for Barrio Children's Health Project" was one of the top ranked proposals submitted to NIEHS last fall, and has been awarded $225,445. Subject to future available federal funding, the project is a four year award, providing almost $1,000,000 to be used to improve community education about environmental exposure to toxics and air pollutants, develop environmental health-related school curricula development, and expand asthma education and outreach efforts through the neighborhood health clinic in the Barrio Logan area. EHC's partners in the project include the Logan Heights Family Health Center and the Southern California Environmental Health Sciences Center —an NIEHS center that is a partnership between the University of Southern California and University of California, Los Angeles.

"We are excited to be working closely with the Environmental Health Coalition on this important effort," says Ed Avol, Associate Professor at the UCS Keck School of Medicine and leader of the university team working on the project. "This partnership will allow EHC to draw upon the scientific expertise of our research faculty in the area of air pollution and children's health. At the same time, it will help us better understand the environmental health concerns of the community." Working on the program with Professor Avol Dr. Rob McConnell, a physician and asthma researcher, and Andrea Kricko, who directs the NIEHS Center's outreach and education activities.

(Reprinted from Toxinformer, Environmental Health Coalition, Volume Nineteen, Issue Three, August 2000)

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