June 22, 2021

No stars on the ‘Toxic Tour’

first_imgEvery day, buses packed with tourists trundle along the Hollywood Walk of Fame and through Beverly Hills to gawk at celebrities and gasp at the size of their mansions. A lesser-known tour through the industrial back streets of the county also leaves participants gasping – for another reason. “On your left is a smokestack,” guide Jesus Torres points out as he leads the “Toxic Tour” through neighborhoods in the shadows of oil refineries, factories and slaughterhouses. The excursions staged by the watchdog group Communities for a Better Environment are gaining popularity among policymakers, lawyers and students who want a firsthand look at poor, minority areas affected by a disproportionate amount of pollution. He was hospitalized when one of his lungs partially collapsed from breathing airborne debris at the site. “The first time I went out there I thought, what in the world is happening to me,” he recalled. Still, as he lobbied for a cleanup, he felt compelled to grab a respirator and return. The 600,000 tons of concrete remained in the city for more than a decade before it was removed last year. “We called it the mountain of death,” said resident Linda Marquez, who often greets the tour buses that still trek to her street to gauge the lingering impact of the problem. “We had to close our windows, our doors, we couldn’t have the kids out too long because their eyes would tear and noses would run,” she said. After leaving Huntington Park, the bus crosses the Alameda Corridor, a transitway used each day by 14,000 trucks and dozens of freight trains that service the giant Los Angeles-Long Beach port complex. Along the corridor is Wilmington, where Japheth Peleti has lived with his parents and grandmother since the 1970s. During the day, a seemingly nonstop ribbon of trains thunder past their home. At night, the giant oil refinery just beyond their back yard spews smoke. “When it’s loud, the whole house shakes. Sometimes we think it’s an earthquake,” Peleti said. Timothy Malloy, co-director of the Frank G. Wells Environmental Law Clinic at the University of California, Los Angeles, takes students on the tour to reinforce classroom lessons on pollution. 160Want local news?Sign up for the Localist and stay informed Something went wrong. Please try again.subscribeCongratulations! You’re all set! Instead of heading to Tinseltown or celebrity crime scenes, the buses visit areas that have been the site of environmental nightmares. Among its stops are “Asthma Town” in Huntington Park and an elementary school that was plagued by miscarriages among workers. Riders also get to breathe in the warm, sticky stench of slaughtered pigs mixed with the stink of diesel fuel, paint and other chemicals. “The big thing with the tours is to put a human face on this,” said Bill Gallegos, executive director of Communities for a Better Environment. About 200 people took the free tour last year, compared to just a handful in 1995, when the effort began, organizers said. Rick Loya went when he was a councilman in Huntington Park and the city was the site of a mountain of concrete collected from freeway damage during the 1994 Northridge earthquake. last_img

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