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Orange Countys Environmental Racism Issue | New University

California has made efforts in reducing the climate crisis. Gavin Newsoms N-79-20 Executive OrderThis requires that all new vehicles have zero net emission by 2035. The U.S. Energy Information Administration, (EIA) states that the following energy consumption levels are in effect: Second lowestper capita in the nation. The University of California system has many sustainability initiatives. AwardsIt has been recognized as an example of environmental leadership in the country. 

Despite all these advancements, there are still many environmental hazards that could pose a serious threat to Orange County residents’ health. These higher pollution levels are more common in low-income areas that house more Black, Indigenous, or people of color (BIPOC).  

According to the Orange County Environmental Educational Justice Fund (OCEJEnvironmental racism is the distribution of disadvantages to BIPOC communities that are lower income. The organization works to promote environmental justice by mobilizing marginalized community members and empowering them, as these groups comprise a significant portion of Orange County.

The OCEJ WebsiteThe county is facing environmental issues like low air and water quality, lead contamination, lack of open spaces, and other problems. Environmental racism is further exacerbated by the higher pollution burden on disadvantaged communities. 

UCI professor of occupational and environmental safety and health Dr. Jun WuThe study of exposure assessment for pollution in the air focuses on the relationship between environmental hazards and human health.

I am particularly interested in the health disparity issues. [such as]How to lower your income [communities]Wu stated that communities of color might be more exposed to environmental hazards or less exposed to environmental resources like clean space.  

One UCI-led StudyWu was involved in the investigation of the link between atmospheric pollutants and malignant brain cancer. 

Because of their inflammatory effects on the human body, these pollutants are believed to have carcinogenic qualities. The study showed that rats exposed to PM (particulate matter) triggers inflammatory stress and cell determinants of cancer. These factors were linked to activation in brain tumor pathways by a molecular change in brain. 

Researchers found a link between long-term exposure to high levels of benzene and ozone and malignant brain tumours in Latino men. 

Another example of environmental injustice in Orange County is soil pollution, especially lead contamination in local communities. Wu and her team discovered that soil with higher levels of poverty and education had higher lead concentrations. 

High levels of lead in the soil also affect those without health insurance and those who live in renter-occupied homes. Wu stated that these disparities were found in Santa Ana alone, not taking into account other Orange County communities. 

Above: Map showing lead concentrations in OC soil. Credit to OCEJ

Wu said that the most vulnerable neighborhoods also tend to be home to more children.

There is no safe level of lead exposure. However, there are certain areas. [where]Wu stated that if you have more children, your soil lead exposures are actually higher, Wu referring to Santa Ana’s lower-income neighborhoods. 

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, (CDCChildhood lead exposure can cause brain and nervous system damage, delayed development, and problems in behavior, learning, and speaking. 

ResearchJawed Ahmad Usmani, Anjum Aura, and Ab Latif Wani, all from Aligarh Muslim University, explained that, despite its high toxicity, it has unique chemical and physical characteristics, such as malleability and resistance to corrosion. This makes it an effective material for construction and industry. 

These researchers found that lead interferes with cognitive functions due to interference with cellular ion channel channels. The body becomes unable to transmit electrical impulses to the heart and nervous systems because the lead ion blocks voltagedependent calcium channels. Researchers also discovered that children’s cognitive ability is affected by lead in the bloodstream. 

These effects show the urgency of addressing environmental racism. Any level of lead exposure can worsen low education rates and other problems within these communities.  

Wus department completed another study to address concerns of Santa Anas Madison Park Neighborhood Association about air pollution from the Kingspan industrial corridor. 

They have residents right across the street [from]This industrial corridor is also accessed from the street, as well as an elementary school across the street. As you can see, there are two options. [that]Wu stated that residents have major concerns. 

An independent StudyUCI air pollution expert Dr. Shahir MasriResearcher Masri, who studies air pollution exposure assessment, and epidemiology, found levels of PM2.5 in the Kingspan corridor to be seven times higher than outside levels. Some pollution levels even exceeded the maximum threshold for PM2.5 detectors. Masri says that this level, which is higher than the Environmental Protection Agencys safe classification, warrants 24-hour outdoor monitoring because it has the potential of posing a public health threat.

The potential respiratory effects of industrial corridors near Kingspan have begun to emerge, as evidenced by an increase in asthma rates and asthma-related visits to emergency rooms for residents. 

This is the neighborhood [these rates are]Wu stated that the Orange County average Orange County values are quite high. 

Wu says that the lower income communities where these trends are observed are more susceptible to the effects of environment hazards because they have higher rates preexisting conditions.

Wu and other environmental epidemiologists are also concerned by the impacts of climate changes, and more specifically heat waves.

Wu and her team analysed 20 years of California fire data. FoundCensus tracts with higher wildfire frequency, burn area, and other factors had lower percentages of minority groups. 

Consider these things when you are considering [Indigenous]A greater percentage of the population lives in highly impacted areas. [areas]Wu said. 

These communities were also home to a high number of elderly residents.

These census tracts are located primarily in rural areas, where many people do not have computer access or a college education.

According to the StudyThese factors, along with environmental hazards, could mean that those from low income families cannot afford to live near urban areas are more at risk for wildfires. This can impact their health and further exacerbate socioeconomic inequalities.

Lauren Le is a STEM Apprentice in the winter 2022 quarter. She can be reached by email at [email protected].

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