WESTWOOD (CBSLA.com) — Concerned citizens and community groups were given the opportunity Friday to sound off about potential public health hazards linked to chemical storage facilities across the Southland.
The hearing at the University of California, Los Angeles was one of several planned throughout the country by an executive order after last year’s deadly chemical disaster in West Texas.
Various federal agencies, including the Department of Homeland Security and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, took part in the forum, which let residents who live near about a dozen high-risk facilities that could each put more than 100,000 Angelenos in “vulnerability zones” in the event of a toxic accident voice their concerns.
Officials heard comments from several groups, including California Public Interest Research Group (CALPIRG) and Physicians for Social Responsibility, of which Martha Dina Arguello is a member.
“Southeast Los Angeles, where my family lives, is one with the highest number of facilities that store or use highly flammable and toxic chemicals,” Arguello said. “Just like fire prevention, we need chemical disaster prevention, and that’s done by moving into those facilities and engineering the danger out of those jobs.”
Ana Macareńas, a UCLA graduate student who lives in El Sereno, said she notices a number of chemical facilities during her commutes to and from school.
“I worry that some of those chemicals might be released in some type of incident,” she said.
Mascareñas added that she believes she’s seen more facilities in working class communities, where there are more minorities. She also said many facilities are sitting near hospitals and schools.
“Children who are clearly vulnerable. It’s our responsibility to protect them,” Mascareñas said.
The session is one of several planned throughout the country as part of the “Improving Chemical Facility Safety and Security” executive order signed by President Obama in the wake of the chemical disaster that killed 14 people in West, Texas, last August.
About 300,000 residents in West Virginia were left without clean water after a chemical spill in the Elk River in Charleston shut down much of the city and surrounding counties even as the cause and extent of the incident remained unclear, according to CBS News.