Everyone should have the right to a healthy environment. Yet, air pollution is a common occurrence in many communities where Black, Indigenous, and people of color (BIPOC) live, work, and go to school. Although the danger air pollution poses in the everyday lives of citizens, the government does not always help alleviate the effects and causes of environmental pollutants. This issue is rarely addressed and is commonly ignored, especially since many people outside these communities feel like the problem doesn’t impact them. Therefore, communities exposed to environmental hazards have a harder time gaining a platform where their voices and concerns can be heard, further trapping them into a lifestyle that forces them to live and deal with the issue of air pollution.
The Palisades Teen Council members raised concerns over this issue, inspiring us to learn more and take action. We recently met with influential environmental and social justice activist Leah Thomas, better known as Green Girl Leah, for a group discussion. We talked about how to properly approach the topic of environmental justice and learned about other organizations to contact that can help aid in our mission. It’s certainly not an easy task, but there are ways to invest in making the environment better and, in turn, people’s lives better in places where people do not currently have access to a safe and healthy environment.
As a group of about 10 library volunteers, we were driven to look more at communities of color in L.A, where environmental hazards and concerns often go ignored and are left unchecked. We started noticing that chemical factories and other toxic plants were deliberately placed in minority neighborhoods where media coverage is low and environmental health hazards are not addressed as they would be in wealthier neighborhoods. Truthfully, we rarely see toxic power plants placed in the middle of affluent white communities.
We started learning more about what happened in Vernon (L.A. County), where the former Exide battery recycling plant leeched harmful chemicals into the air and soil. This has put the Vernon community, a population of around 200 people, at increased risk for lung disease, asthma, and cancer. Fortunately, the Exide plant was dismantled, easing future issues and the worries of many people who live nearby. However, the action was only taken after years of toxic air exposure and the continued activism of local community groups who fought for a safer environment. Harmful elements remain in the air and soil today, and better solutions are still needed to remove the toxins completely.
The Palisades Teen Council’s goal is to create a toolkit for advocacy on environmental justice and raise awareness on this issue—where environmentalism intersects with race—that we hope to share with members of every community. Despite some limitations (we’re a small group currently meeting virtually), we are continuing our research, learning more from community members, and hearing their stories.
Francia is a volunteer member of the Palisades Library's Teen Council. She is currently a junior at New West Charter School.
—Librarian’s note: The Palisades Teen Council is a group of high school students committed to enacting change in their community through volunteer work at the library. This school year, the group has examined the intersection of environmentalism and race.
The Teens Leading Change initiative has funded and launched nearly 40 projects across 50 branches, including 8 projects across 11 branches that are happening now! These projects are related to Supporting Students with Learning Disabilities, Fighting Food Insecurity, Addressing Environmental Racism, Neighborhood Beautification, Financial Literacy, Addressing the School-to-Prison Pipeline, and Supporting Youth with Housing Insecurity.