Environmental Disasters, Not Just in the Valley

in The Word is Text by

By Ricardo Zenon

On October 23, 2015 a massive gas leak was discovered by employees working at SoCalGas. The leak was coming from the a well that came from the underground storage facility in the Santa Susana Mountains. This well, which was the second largest well of it’s kind, belonged to the Southern California Gas Company. Six months later, on January 6, Governor Jerry Brown issued a state of emergency and had the community of Porter Ranch evacuated. By February 18 the gas company and state officials announced that the leak was permanently plugged. Over 100,000 tons of methane and 7,000 tons of ethane were released into the atmosphere. The Aliso Canyon Gas Leak is considered the worst natural gas leak in U.S history in terms of the carbon footprint that was left behind.

From the time that residents of Porter Ranch first began to smell the gas to the time the well was officially plugged six months later. However, in Boyle Heights a similar issue has been going on for over thirty years and the residents of the community are still dealing with it. The Exide Technologies Plant is a battery recycling plant that is located in Boyle Heights. For decades Exide has continued its normal operation polluting the city with dangerous chemicals such as lead and arsenic into the environment. It has been responsible for 25% of Los Angeles’ annual pollution. It is believed that now over 10,000 homes across six communities have been contaminated with poisonous lead. After decades of operation the plant was finally shut down by environmental activists but the communities around Boyle Heights are still dealing with the nightmare of the damage that was done to their neighborhood.

Now both of these issues are equally important and they both had huge environmental ramifications but there is more behind these two stories. Why is it that the gas leak that occurred in Aliso Canyon only take six months to fix but it has taken decades for anything in Boyle Heights to be done. Professor Stevie Ruiz who is a Chicano Studies professor at CSUN says race has a lot to do with it. Porter Ranch is predominantly an upper middle class white neighborhood, as soon as the residents started smelling the gas they were able to higher a private firm to do an ecological study. The residents of Boyle Heights didn’t have such a luxury. The reason action was taken quickly in Porter Ranch is because they had the money to hire lawyers to speak for them.

However, the fact that Porter Ranch had the money to hire lawyers does not excuse letting the people of Boyle Heights live in the same conditions for decades. Professor Ruiz says that a lot of it has to do with racism. He says the only we can keep this from continuing is if we stop putting people with a history of racism into office. If we don’t, communities like Boyle Heights will continued to be put in the backseat and overlooked when another issue like this occurs.

The El Popo Newspaper was first published in 1970 by students concerned about the lack of a Chicana and Chicano perspective in newspapers. As a result, students called the newspaper, El Popo. The paper was named El Popo after the volcano El Popocatepetl. Involved in Chicana/o Movement of the 60’s and 70’s, students saw a connection between the smoke spewing volcano ready to erupt and the student movement ready to engage. Thus, throughout the El Popo’s forty-six years, the name continues to symbolize and to represent the spirit of each generation of students that contribute to the pages of the El Popo Newspaper. Faculty Advisor/Publisher Carlos R. Guerrero, Ph.D.