Latinos in rural Central Valley, California, are not spared from health problems–and even death–due to air and water pollution. In a chapter in the report titled, “Birth Defects and Hazardous Waste: Fighting for Environmental Justice in Kettleman City,” there were depressing stories about Latina mothers who lost their babies to severe birth defects. According to the report,
“The alarming rate of birth defects in this poor farm-worker community—which lies just over three miles from the largest hazardous waste landfill west of the Mississippi River—catalyzed the mothers, local organizers, and environmental justice advocates to demand an investigation into the impact of Waste Management’s toxic site when the Kings County Board of Supervisors unanimously approved its expansion.
In addition to the landfill, Kettleman City’s water is contaminated with arsenic, its air is polluted with pesticides and toxic emissions from the neighboring highway, and there are few sidewalks and no grocery store. Residents know that the structural inequities they face are directly related to the fact that Kettleman City is over 90 percent Latino, with a median income of just about $22,000. ‘I’m telling you that if the dump is allowed to expand, we’ll suffer more damage and illness. Why? Because we are poor and Hispanic,’ (Maura) Alatorre told the Los Angeles Times.”
A detached observer may tell these low-income workers, who are in charge of growing and harvesting our food, to “move somewhere else.” But as the report pointed out, there are few places – from small towns to large cities – that are not touched by these issues, which are environmental, economic and health-related. Air pollution is not contained, and we all pay for healthcare costs related to it, whether for ourselves or our neighbors, not to mention lost days of work and school due to illnesses and hospitalizations. Oh, and by the way, we spend more on healthcare than any other industrialized country on earth – also in the report.
One upshot from the report: I was heartened by the amount of activism taking place throughout California and in the country. Mothers like Alatorre, who lost a child more than three years ago due to severe birth defects, and groups like El Pueblo Para el Aire y Agua Limpio (Alatorre’s group “People for Clean Air and Water”), and Mothers Fighting Pollution in Long Beach are not sitting idly while corporations pollute. Whatever their ethnicity, race or economic circumstances may be, these moms are very aware of what is going on, and they are acting.
Very much like the mothers here at Moms Clean Air Force. In that sense, I have faith that we will ultimately triumph.