Recently, our neighbors in the City of Maywood suffered due to a chemical explosion of toxic magnesium at a local plant. This is not the first incident of chemical exposure to afflict the Southeast region. Residents are still recovering, legally, physically, financially, and emotionally, from lead contamination that spewed from a nearby Exide battery plant in Vernon.
These occurrences have had a tremendous effect on the residents’ health and well-being, and the lack of aid and assistance the community has received in the aftermath increasingly disheartening. More specifically, Maywood has received little of the necessary relief provided by Los Angeles County and its Department of Health (DPH). The minimal support that the County has supplied has taken the form of an inadequate evacuation decree (a radius of only one square block) and the provision of cleaning services to homes on only one side of the affected street. The County has ignored the fact that the explosion subjects the entire neighborhood to devastating consequences, and its disregard has left the mostly Latino, working class community in distress, as it struggles to find the means and support required for recovery. This neglect does not, and will not, go unnoticed.
In stark contrast, the County has paid a disproportionate amount of time and money to other communities affected by recent environmental crises. For example, when a gas leak occurred in the suburban and more affluent Porter Ranch area, action was quickly taken. Press conferences and hearings were held, studies were commissioned, and there was a call for an evacuation with a radius of five miles, despite the leak having been deemed non-hazardous. I do not claim that the DPH’s response to this disaster was excessive or superfluous. Instead, I argue that Maywood, and other Southeastern LA cities affected by their own recent environmental crises, must receive the same humane treatment.
The greater question looms: why do communities like Porter Ranch receive much greater aid and attention in times of crisis than industrial communities? Unfortunately, Latino communities such as Maywood have long faced social injustices, and environmental inequities do not escape the extensive list of discriminations.
It is time we take action. Southeast LA cities must be protected, to the same extent as Porter Ranch, in case of future catastrophes. I request that the County and Department of Public Health establish a standardized and impartial system that details the proper response to such environmental calamities. Protocols must be instituted, so that when danger does strike, each and every city in Los Angeles County, despite income or racial status, will be defended by the justice of the law. This is not only a legal duty, but also a moral duty. We must defend the notion that each and every life, regardless of their residential zip code, matters. At a time when our country seems to be at its most unstable, with acts of hatred and wickedness plaguing the nation, we must come together as a united front, bound by our humanity, to tackle this injustice so that we may see a better future for not only ourselves, but for future generations.
Pastor William D. Smart currently serves as the CEO of the Greater Los Angeles Southern Christian Leadership Conference.