Pacific Southwest, Region 9
Serving: Arizona, California, Hawaii, Nevada, Pacific Islands, Tribal Nations
Environmental Justice Community Success Stories
Pacoima Beautiful is a community-based, resident-driven environmental non-profit organization whose mission is to empower the Pacoima community. Founded in 1997 by five residents, the bilingual, multi-cultural organization focuses on capacity building, environmental issues and hazards affecting Pacoima through programs that provide environmental education, advocacy and local leadership opportunities for residents in order to foster a healthy and safe environment.
Pacoima is a low-income, working-class community located in the northeast San Fernando Valley in the City of Los Angeles with an 83 percent Hispanic population. The city is located just north of approximately 30 landfills (operating and non-operating), is surrounded by three major freeways and diesel truck traffic, bisected by a railroad line, home to a small commuter plane airport, is subject to emissions from numerous toxic risks, and more than 300 industrial facilities.
Community concerns focus on the cumulative impacts from contaminants, such as lead in paint and in the soil, emissions from freeways, commuter planes, diesel from trucks, older “gross emitting” cars in the community, landfills and the widespread use of toxic chemicals throughout the community.
Many residents live across the street from or are adjacent to these potential sources of health risks, although they are often unaware of the health impacts of these facilities.
In 2004, with the support of an Environmental Justice Collaborative Problem Solving grant from EPA, Pacoima added 243 homes to its newly created Lead-Free Homes registry and enlisted 205 residents to identify and reduce local toxics. In addition, Pacoima Beautiful partnered with and received aid from Los Angeles Neighborhood Housing Services to conduct lead paint remediation at 18 homes.
With a Level I Community Action for a Renewed Environment (CARE) grant in 2006, Pacoima Beautiful convened over 320 community residents, partners, and stakeholders to review data and information on toxic sources gathered in the community. In addition Pacoima Beautiful has built and nurtured collaborative partnerships and consensus building relationships with residents and more than 150 organizations, agencies and institutions inside and out side the community which serves as the basis for the CARE project’s stakeholder group
As a result, in 2007, the community was awarded a Level II CARE grant for $300,000
to address two of the identified community priorities: small pollution sources in a targeted area of Pacoima and diesel emissions from trucks and school busses throughout the community.
Pacoima anticipates significant health improvements through reduced emissions, reduced resource use, and increased use of sustainable products. The community will achieve these environmental health improvements by implementing environmental Best Management Practices and providing additional education about toxics and risk mitigation.
Numerous brownfields were uncovered during Pacoima’s CARE process of identifying, better understanding, and prioritizing environmental health issues in the community. CARE grantees are eligible to receive up to $50,000 in EPA Targeted Brownfields Assessment funding to conduct environmental site assessments and to assist with community redevelopment visioning projects. Assessing these properties is the first step toward cleaning up Pacoima brownfields so the community can reinvest in these properties, increase local tax bases, facilitate job growth, and create a healthier, safer community.
Pacoima Beautiful staff worked with EPA contractors to identify a 230-parcel area that was littered with auto dismantlers, plating facilities, construction yards, and granite cutters. All of these were suspected of posing potential health and environmental risks in the community. The area was targeted because of its close proximity to residents. EPA and state environmental regulatory staff met with Pacoima Beautiful to discuss the results of the site assessments and define potential next steps.
Using EPA resources, Pacoima Beautiful was able to assess how some of the local industrial properties were impacting their community and ways to reduce these impacts.
To better address the issue of diesel exposure in the community, Pacoima Beautiful organized a group of residents that assisted with research and data collection, and met with elected officials, the police department, and air quality agencies. Additionally, Pacoima worked with city leaders to keep trucks from passing through residential neighborhoods by placing traffic signs on streets notifying truck drivers of route restrictions.
Pacoima Beautiful’s staff and community members trained as health educators discussed results with businesses, informing them of better and more environmentally-friendly practices that would not only benefit the community’s health, but also the environment. These educators also conducted several trainings for staff, youth, volunteers and community members on air pollution science, health effects, government agencies that regulate pollutants, and laws and guidelines on air pollution.
In addition, the team partners developed a curriculum to inform residents about the potential health impacts of living adjacent to high concentration of small point sources and diesel emissions, the two priorities of the grant. The residents also received education on the hazards of auto dismantling and diesel exhaust and their potential health effects, including what they can do to protect themselves.