FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
13 June 2022
Contact: Liam Forsythe, (310) 513-3469 (mobile)
WATTS, CA – Yesterday, Congresswoman Nanette Barragán hosted Admiral Rachel Levine, Assistant Secretary for Health within the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, at Jordan High School to discuss the ongoing lead contamination, environmental injustices, and related health impacts experienced by the students and faculty of Jordan High School and the Watts community.
After a tour of the school grounds, Barragán led a roundtable discussion with Admiral Levine, students and faculty of Jordan High School, and Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) School Board Members on solutions to address the ongoing environmental injustices experienced in Watts. Additionally, the conversation focused on ways the recently announced HHS Office of Environmental Justice, housed within the newly created Office of Climate and Health Equity, can partner with the community to improve the public health outcomes in the area.
“What’s taking place here in Watts is unacceptable,” said Barragán. “Students and faculty of Jordan High School have suffered from the impacts of lead contamination on school grounds for decades. Despite multiple remediation efforts, the campus continues to test positive for lead. In 2020, the Los Angeles Unified School District found lead concentrations on this campus that are 75 times greater than what the EPA defines as a hazardous threshold, and the California Department of Toxic Substances Control discovered elevated levels of lead and heavy metals in soil samples collected from multiple outdoor locations on this campus, as well as the Atlas Metal facility, which is just on the other side of the fence from the school’s fields. And this is just one of many industrial polluters here in Watts, a predominantly Latino and African-American community with an average life expectancy that is 12 years shorter than wealthier parts of Los Angeles. No community should tolerate this.
“That is why I invited Admiral Levine to join me at Jordan High School today, to learn first-hand about the environmental injustices experienced by the community. Admiral Levine, HHS, and their new Office of Environmental Justice are critical partners in the fight to respond to the public health impacts here at Jordan High School and throughout Watts. I look forward to working with Admiral Levin and the Biden Administration on a comprehensive solution for Watts and so many other communities across the country experiencing similar injustices.”
The Biden Administration has taken steps towards an all-of-government approach to leverage resources across multiple agencies to address environmental injustices, including creating the Office of Environmental Justice within the Office of Climate and Health Equity at HHS, with a mission to protect the health of disadvantaged communities and vulnerable populations on the frontlines of pollution and other hazards to health and well-being.
“We’re not just here to listen and understand,” said Admiral Levine, “although I think that’s a critically important aspect. We want to work with community residents. We want to work with local officials and state officials to translate what we’ve learned here today into action. We want to formulate an action plan that is specific to community needs.”
The HHS Office of Environmental Justice can organize public health resources and technical assistance across the agency and the federal government, creating a comprehensive approach to reducing hazards and improving public health outcomes in communities like Watts. Rep. Barragán co-led efforts in the House of Representatives to ensure that HHS’ new offices and environmental justice efforts are adequately funded.
Although the environmental injustice experienced in Watts has been ongoing for years and despite multiple remediation efforts, there has yet to be real change to address the issues. Rep. Barragán is working to bring together HHS, the Environmental Protection Agency, and all relevant federal, state, and local agencies to create a long-term solution to address the problem and its impacts.
“For two decades we have been fighting for environmental justice for Watts. Thank you to the students and community members who in more recent months, have amplified and elevated this grave concern that has been plaguing our community,” said LAUSD Board Member Tanya Ortiz Franklin. “Our schools like Jordan need extra love and support so that our students are college, career, and life ready. I am hopeful today that this national attention will bring the change that is absolutely required and that our students deserve in Watts.”
Heaven Watson, a student at Jordan High School, participated in the events and shared how the ongoing environmental injustices have impacted her. “Further environmental injustices could be prevented if our community wasn’t only seen as a place where you can dump trash, or it’s okay to have industrial factories polluting our schools. It can be prevented if people and organizations take into consideration that there are not just high rates of gang violence, crowded alley ways, and projects here, but that there academically excelling students, scientists, robotics teams, kids trying to pursue something.”
Nanette Diaz Barragán is proud to represent California’s 44th Congressional District, which includes the communities of Carson, Compton, Florence-Firestone, Lynwood, North Long Beach, Rancho Dominguez, San Pedro, South Gate, Walnut Park, Watts, Willowbrook, and Wilmington. She serves as chairwoman of the House Homeland Security Committee’s Subcommittee on Border Security, and on the House Energy and Commerce Health, Energy, and Environment & Climate Change Subcommittees.