Exposure to High Levels of Toxic Air Pollution Puts Los Angeles’ Poor Neighborhoods at Risk, Says New Report

Los Angeles Collaborative for Environmental Health and Justice says hidden hazards are the cause and recommends locally led health and environmental protections.

Troy, Michigan
Originally released March 1, 2011

Residents of low-income communities in Los Angeles face elevated health risks from disproportionately high and prolonged exposure to cumulative concentrations of toxic air pollution emitted by sources “hidden” from the official view of regulatory agencies, says a new policy brief by the Los Angeles Collaborative for Environmental Health and Justice. 

Multiple exposures to toxins and particulate matter in air pollution have been linked to high rates of asthma, respiratory disease, and cancer risk.

The policy brief, “Hidden Hazards: A Call to Action for Healthy, Livable Communities,” recommends municipal government officials take the lead in advancing health and environmental protections for all communities by adopting a comprehensive policy framework that emphasizes prevention, mitigation, and revitalization.

>> Read the full policy brief, “Hidden Hazards: A Call to Action for Healthy, Livable Communities.

The Kresge Foundation, along with The California Endowment and The Nathan Cummings Foundation, funded the research and resulting publication of the policy brief, which was released in December 2010, through a two-year, $500,000 grant to Liberty Hill Foundation, a founding member of the Los Angeles Collaborative for Environmental Health and Justice.

In addition to the research and policy brief, the Collaborative will establish a land-use policy for the city of Los Angeles and surrounding municipalities that would improve health by reducing toxic exposure and revitalizing neighborhoods. The city presents special challenges for implementing environmental health policies due to the proliferation of industrial, transportation, and goods-movement facilities that pollute the entire region, especially poor neighborhoods.

David D. Fukuzawa, Health Program director, says this multifaceted project highlights the barriers to health that low-income communities encounter every day.

Through the data collection process, local volunteers were enlisted to document residents’ concerns about toxic hazards in six Los Angeles neighborhoods as well as the proximity of schools, churches, daycare centers, and other community facilities to those pollution sources.

The new data collected on the pollution emitters was then compared with state government regulatory databases. An analysis revealed new evidence regarding the clustering of dangerous facilities, high levels of air pollution, and elevated health risks in the overburdened communities.

Specifically, the findings showed:

  • Toxic hazards are more prolific than regulatory data indicate, and government agency databases of polluters contain significant errors about their location.
  • At-risk children and adults are more numerous than regulatory data suggest and are located too close to toxic hazards.
  • Air pollution levels exceed safe standards.

The policy brief outlines concrete steps that local governments can use to mitigate toxic hazards and protect community health while laying the groundwork for green or sustainable economic development and the revitalization of Los Angeles-area neighborhoods.

These are among the 11 planning and enforcement recommendations:

  • Adoption of authoritative screening methods
  • Establishment of zoning restrictions and use permits
  • Requirements for health-impact assessments
  • Strengthening of inspection and enforcement
  • Establishment of a mitigation fund and economic-development incentives
  • Increased community participation in decision-making

The Hidden Hazards report concludes by urging Los Angeles leaders to “heed this call to action and take affirmative steps to transform overburdened neighborhoods into healthy, vibrant communities with strong local businesses and green jobs that will pave the way toward a sustainable future.

For more information, contact Cynthia Shaw, cbshaw@kresge.org or call 248-643-9630.

The Kresge Foundation
3215 West Big Beaver Road
Troy, Michigan 48084

248.643.9630 telephone
248.643.0588 fax

The Kresge Foundation is a $3.1 billion private, national foundation that seeks to influence the quality of life for future generations through its support of nonprofit organizations in six fields of interest: arts and culture, community development, education, the environment, health, and human services.

About Us

The Kresge Foundation is a $3.1 billion private, national foundation that supports communities by building the capacity of nonprofit organizations in six fields: health, the environment, arts and culture, education, human services and community development. Kresge seeks to influence the quality of life for future generations by creating access and opportunity in underserved communities, improving the health of low-income people, supporting artistic expression, assisting in the revitalization of Detroit, and advancing methods for dealing with global climate change. In 2009, the Board of Trustees approved 404 awards totaling $197 million; $167 million was paid out to grantees over the course of the year. In June 2007, the foundation embarked upon a multi-year expansion of its grantmaking to better address society’s pressing issues. Central to this expansion are nine values, which now serve as the centerpiece of its grantmaking criteria. The values aim to advance low-income opportunity, promote community impact in ways most needed by residents, cultivate innovation and risk taking, support interdisciplinary solutions, foster environmental sustainability, and encourage diversity in board governance. For more information, visit www.kresge.org.