Asthma Coalition of L.A. Hones in on Effects of Urban Oil Drilling on Respiratory Health

May was Asthma Awareness Month, and asthma coalitions and organizations throughout the state and country held events and activities to bring attention to the disease. Read on for one great example.

On May 20, 2014, the Asthma Coalition of Los Angeles County and its partners, Esperanza Community Housing Corporation, Breathe California of Los Angeles, St. John’s Well Child and Family Center, Strategic Actions for a Just Economy, the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health, and the LAC-USC Breathmobile, recognized Asthma Awareness Month with an event highlighting the toxic effects of urban oil drilling on respiratory health in Los Angeles County, which are often located in low-income, communities of color.

The event took place at an affordable housing, multi-unit housing complex in South Los Angeles and featured remarks from key healthcare advocates and environmental health experts from UCLA on the disproportionate burden of asthma on low-income communities in Los Angeles County and the co-occurring disproportionate burden of oil extraction sites in these communities. Most often, these sites are located in close proximity to low-income housing projects and families. The event also featured asthma health screenings, a small community health fair, interactive activities, and refreshments.

At the start of the event, participants had an opportunity to explore the health fair for asthma education materials and resources available from organizations such as the Asthma Coalition of Los Angeles County, Esperanza Community Housing Corporation, Strategic Actions for a Just Economy, St. John’s Well Child and Family Center, Breathe California of Los Angeles, LA Care, Torres Martinez Tribal-Tanf, and a variety of programs within the Department of Public Health. USC’s Breathmobile was also on site with Dr. Marilyn Li and staff to provide asthma health screenings to interested community members.

The event was kicked off with a press conference with opening remarks from Nancy Halpern Ibrahim, Executive Director of Esperanza Community Housing Corporation and founding member of the Asthma Coalition of Los Angeles County. Nancy provided an overview of the issues with urban oil drilling in South Los Angeles and described the campaign, “People Not Pozos”, a grassroots community mobilization campaign to fight against these oil sites in South Los Angeles. Following the opening remarks, Dr. Richard Jackson, Professor and Chair of Environmental Health Sciences at the UCLA Fielding School of Public Health, provided specific information on the respiratory and other health effects of oil drilling in residential communities, what effects are common in children who reside nearby, and provided his expertise with a public health perspective. Next on the agenda was Dr. Helen Duplessis, Chief Medical Officer of St. John’s Well Child & Family Center, who summarized the burden of asthma in South Los Angeles, particularly in children, her medical perspective of the toxic effects of oil drilling on the health of the surrounding residents, and some indication of patients presenting with respiratory distress at St. John’s clinics in South Los Angeles. After the expert testimony completed, two residents provided their personal stories of the health issues caused by living in close proximity to two of the local oil drilling sites. These testimonies were courageous, powerful, and insightful; bringing forth the traumatic consequences they suffer due to these toxic fumes.

The Asthma Coalition of Los Angeles County and its partners hope that this press conference raises awareness that urban oil wells do not make for good neighbors in low-income residential communities. They emit toxic emissions that our Los Angeles residents breathe every day. We encourage Los Angeles residents to support the hydraulic fracturing moratorium presented to LA City Council in order to improve our community’s health and safety.

The event was captured by at least six media stations, including Channel 18, Telemuindo 52, City News Service, KTLA5, La Opinion, and UniVision. Photos of the event are available on the Asthma Coalition of Los Angeles County’s Facebook page.