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Pollution, other environmental hazards put Latinos more at risk, study says



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Oct. 20--Latinos suffer from more environmental hazards than the rest of the population, and, to make matters worse, they lack the information they need to protect themselves, a study released today says.

The report by the Natural Resources Defense Council notes that a large percentage of Latinos lives near heavy-pollution areas, such as industrial zones and agricultural operations, putting them at greater risk of asthma, cancer and other conditions.

In Los Angeles County, Latinos comprise 44 percent of the general population, but up to 60 percent of residents live within a half-mile of the top 100 toxic polluters.

The problem is exacerbated, the report said, when public agencies fail to provide the Spanish-speaking community with information about the hazards -- everything from recommendations for staying healthy to how to testify at a public hearing.

"One of the reasons we think these communities are being more heavily impacted is the lack of information," said Adrianna Quintero-Somaini, an NRDC attorney and director of its Latino outreach program. "Once we provide Latinos with the information, the onus is on them to take that information and help us protect the environment."

The study urges strict enforcement of air and water pollution laws, as well as the inclusion of residential neighbors in decisions on polluting industries.

However, Latinos who might be interested in environmental or health issues often have a hard time finding good information, the study said. Spanish-language media rarely report environmental issues, and public agencies often present information in English only.

That's a problem the grass-roots environmental group Pacoima Beautiful sees.

"The information exists -- beautiful information, well-done, appropriate information is there. But it doesn't get out. Who is distributing it? How is it getting out?," asked Pacoima Beautiful director Marlene Grossman.

Some Southern California agencies said they've tried to reach Latino audiences.

Los Angeles County health officials said all educational messages are in English and Spanish.

And in the past decade, the South Coast Air Quality Management District has had Spanish-language translators at town-hall meetings in Latino neighborhoods and is now creating press releases for Spanish-language media.

This year the district sent out a 12-page pollution pamphlet, in Spanish, to 160,000 households.

"The Latino community has become the No. 1 group advocating for clean-air legislation, tougher air-quality regulations and making sure the regulations we have on the books are not weakened," said Sam Atwood, AQMD spokesman.

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