Community study shows poor health among residents in polluted West Carson

Clara Harter, The Daily Breeze. December 23, 2022.

Survey shows elevated rates of headaches, eye irritation, nasal congestion, asthma and more.

Residents of unincorporated West Carson have been sounding the alarm about environmental contamination for decades — and now a community health study corroborates many of their concerns.

A survey of households found high rates of headaches, nasal and eye irritation, and asthma – all of which can be caused or exacerbated by pollution – as well as elevated rates of diabetes, heart disease and depression.

West Carson is a particularly disadvantaged area.

It not only experiences high truck traffic and pollution from nearby industrial and manufacturing sites, but also sits atop two superfund sites. The Montrose superfund is a former DDT-producing pesticide facility and the Del Amo superfund is a former a synthetic plastic manufacturing plant.

The community health study was spearheaded by the Del Amo Action Committee, a local environmental advocacy nonprofit, and conducted with support from USC, the LA County Department of Public Health, the Coalition for Clean Air and the Coalition for a Safe Environment.

DAAC has been fighting for environmental justice for West Carson – a 280-acre unincorporated area of LA County surrounded by Carson, Gardena and Harbor City – since its founding in 1994. This is around when residents started noticing they shared common ailments, such as frequent nose bleeds, headaches and hair loss.

It was discovered soon after that the superfund sites were contaminating the soil and groundwater with DDT and other toxic chemicals. A buyout of around 70 homes was negotiated in 1997 and environmental remediation work began.

“I was poisoned and everybody told me don’t worry about and I’m watching the next generation get poisoned,” said DAAC Director Cynthia Babich, who was part of the buyout. “All l can do is try and help the agencies do things better, to try and protect my community and be honest with them.”

The study is a key part of that effort.

It seeks to quantify the complaints of residents and help educate policy makers on the problems impacting the neighbored. Its results revealed high rates of conditions both related and unrelated to pollution.

“(The) community is plagued by numerous chronic health conditions, exacerbated by many environmental stressors,” the study says. “The high household prevalence of conditions like diabetes, obesity, heart disease and asthma, in addition to widespread mental health concerns and issues caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, point to an urgent need for robust public and environmental health interventions.”

The survey found that diabetes affects around two-thirds of households in West Carson, while high blood pressure affects roughly half of households. And 61% of households are affected by allergies, 28% by asthma and 14% by cancer.

The majority of households surveyed reported being “very concerned” about poor air/water quality, soil contamination and increased truck traffic. Anxiety was reported in 41% of households, with depression in 24%.

The study’s authors suggested that some of the adverse health impacts are connected to both remaining contamination from the superfund sites and the recent increase in trucking and industrial facilities.

The study also a did a truck count at several main intersections in the neighborhood. Eight of the nine intersections studied saw more than 100 trucks pass every hour. The busiest intersection was at Knox Street and Vermont Avenue, which recorded an average of 274 trucks an hour.

Particulate matter from trucks’ diesel fuel can impact asthma and other lung conditions, create blood oxygen concerns, and put residents at an elevated risk of death from heart disease, the study said.

The increase in local trucking and industrial activities in recent years has frustrated community members who have been fighting to improve environmental conditions for decades — including a two-decades struggle to transform a section of the Montrose Superfund site into a community park.

“Historically, we’ve dealt with this really gross contamination from these two (superfund) sites,” Babich said, “and then in the meantime, while you’re over there fighting for a park and some good things to happen out of it, you turn around and you’ve got warehouses popping up.”

Babich said she hopes the study’s results will attract the attention of policy makers and help strengthen DAAC’s argument for setting a moratorium on the number and sizes of warehouses in the area.

“This report and this information provides the same things that we’ve been telling people, but is a little bit more formalized with a few more partners with a few more PhDs,” she said. “Maybe that’s going to be the piece that makes people feel more comfortable trying to protect us.”

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