Battling climate change is task of new LA County Office of Environmental Justice and Climate Health

Supervisors create new department to address global warming and industrial pollution hot spots across LA county

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PUBLISHED: November 15, 2022 at 1:28 p.m. | UPDATED: November 15, 2022 at 4:56 p.m.

LApollutionagencyFolks who live near freeways, like the northbound 170 freeway as it merges with the 5 freeway on Monday, Nov. 14, 2022, can be affected by tailpipe emissions. This is an example of a climate hot zone that the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors wants to address. On Tuesday, Nov. 15, the Board created an Office of Environmental Justice and Climate Health. (Photo by Dean Musgrove, Los Angeles Daily News)

While global leaders were meeting in Egypt for an international summit on climate change, the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors on Tuesday, Nov. 15 created a new county department aimed at helping local communities pounded by the affects of a warming climate and industrial pollution.

The new Office of Environmental Justice and Climate Health will be carved out of the county’s Department of Public Health, which has been tasked with appointing an interim director for the agency within 30 days. The new department will develop a strategy for addressing environmental pollution, which disproportionately affects low-income communities and people of color, the supervisors said.

Some areas of concern include communities exposed to freeway traffic and air pollutants, with an emphasis on those freeway corridors clogged with diesel trucks. Diesel emissions produce particulate pollution, which gets into the lungs and causes disease and leads to increases in heart attacks and cancer, according to the Environmental Protection Agency and health studies out of UCLA. 

One of the toxic hotspots to be addressed by the new agency are communities of Avocado Heights, Hacienda Heights, La Puente and Bassett located near the Quemetco battery recycling plant in City of Industry. The plant agreed to pay $600,000 in penalties for various air pollution violations in 2020, some for excessive emissions of lead, arsenic and 1,3-butadiene, according to the South Coast Air Quality Management District (SCAQMD).

The Board wanted the agency to zero in on other communities located near industrial polluters, such as those who lived near the now-defunct Exide battery recycling plant, which jeopardized the health of 250,000 residents in lower-income, majority Latino communities in southeast Los Angeles County.

Fifth District Supervisor Kathryn Barger said the agency should continue monitoring communities near the 2015 Aliso Canyon methane gas blowout, including Porter Ranch in the northwest San Fernando Valley.

Fourth District Supervisor Janice Hahn, who co-authored the motion creating the new department with First District Supervisor Hilda Solis, wanted the agency to address concerns of people living along the 710 Freeway corridor, which has shown to have high levels of diesel particulate pollution.

“Low income communities across the county have borne the brunt of toxic pollution for decades,” Hahn said. “That is about diesel death zones near our ports, the neighborhoods near Exide, and low-income communities with oil wells.

“It’s time we get proactive,” Hahn said.

The agency would collect data and hold industries accountable for environmental degradation or potential public health hot spots, she said. “That way we can step in and take action while it is necessary.”

Hahn would like the agency to address communities affected by record heat waves, which are occurring more frequently due to climate change. She said many of these low-income communities have fewer trees than middle- and upper-income neighborhoods, plus more asphalt. This creates heat islands that form mini pockets of extreme temperatures.

I think it is a very good move,” said Jonathan Parfrey, founder and executive director of Climate Resolve, a nonprofit that builds public understanding and solutions to local climate impacts. “Because climate change is here now. And we have to protect those in the crosshairs of the climate change impact.”

LAcooling copyClimate Resolve has been experimenting with reflective pavement that can prevent heat islands from occurring. It recently worked with the city of Los Angeles to  install “cool pavement” in 10 square blocks in Pacoima, he said. Los Angeles also used a street coating to cool down neighborhoods in Pico Union, Westlake South, North Hollywood, Canoga Park, Sylmar, Vermont Square, South Central and Boyle Heights.

Parfrey is not a fan of cooling centers, saying they rarely get used. Hahn said the better idea is helping people stay cool during a heat spell where they live.

“We should be meeting people where they are to stay cool in their homes,” Hahn said. “This office will help them rise to meet the threat of climate change head on.”

Solis added that the Department of Public Health’s Toxicology and Environmental Assessment Branch will work with the new agency to create more clout over air pollution issues. “It will give us the kind of respect we need when we work with the AQMD,” Solis said.
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Established in August of 2008 by writerartist Dianne V. Lawrence, The Neighborhood News covers the events, people, history, politics and historic architecture of communities throughout the Mid-City and West Adams area in Los Angeles Council District 10.

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