The Most Urgent Environmental Health Conditions for Latinx Communities in Southeast Los Angeles



Published in partnership with the USC Price Center for Social Innovation in support of the Neighborhood Data for Social Change (NDSC) Platform: The platform is a free, publicly available online data resource that provides data reliable aggregates on the city, the district and the census. track level. The mission of the USC Price Center for Social Innovation is to develop ideas and inform strategies to improve the quality of life for people in low-income urban communities.

The environmental conditions in which we live are social determinants of health that can affect an individual’s quality of life and disease risk, as well as the general physical and mental well-being of all. the community. Historically, communities of color have long experienced multiple forms of environmental racism, which includes higher pollution levels and overall worse environmental quality compared to predominantly white neighborhoods. To accompany the Latino / a Scorecard published by Alliance for a Better Community (ABC), this data story examines the predominantly Latino neighborhoods in Southeast Los Angeles and how environmental quality and access to neighborhoods affect the health of the community.

Pollution and community health in Southeast Los Angeles

Overall, Los Angeles County scores low for environmental quality and has multiple disparities in its health care system, which has a significant impact on communities of color. Los Angeles County is one of the most racially diverse regions in the country, with Latinos making up almost half (49%) of its nearly 5 million people. Latino / as represent 94% of the residents of the southeastern Los Angeles neighborhoods of Vernon, Maywood, Huntington Park, Bell, Bell Gardens, Cudahy, Walnut Park, South Gate, Lynwood and Florence-Firestone. These communities have complex environmental scores that represent varying levels of water quality, air pollution, and environmental toxins that affect the neighborhoods many Latinos / As live in.

More environmental conditions in southern LA

Surprisingly, these communities have above average water quality. The water quality in Southeast Los Angeles is slightly better than the county as a whole. In 2017, Southeast Los Angeles had a drinking water contamination index of 478 compared to Los Angeles County’s 555. These results reflect California’s strict drinking water standards, with just 2.9% of the state’s population in violation of drinking water standards.

However, high levels of other forms of pollution continue to affect the quality of the environment in Southeast Los Angeles. The Pollution Burden Score is a scale from 1 to 10 that uses environmental and demographic characteristics to determine which census tracts are most affected by poor environmental quality. In 2017, Southeast Los Angeles’ score was 7.1, which was slightly higher than the county’s average score of 6.2.

Another pollutant indicator is PM2.5, which refers to particulate matter (PM). These inhalable microparticles can come from a variety of sources such as power plants, motor vehicles, construction sites, dust and fires. The higher the concentration of PM2.5, the worse the pollutant load of a neighborhood. In 2017, southeastern Los Angeles had a PM2.5 concentration of 12.1, compared to the average California PM2.5 concentration of 10.8. Although air quality continued to improve in Los Angeles from 2014 to 2017, the degree of improvement in air quality in Southeast Los Angeles lagged much less than the rest of the county. This suggests that an uneven improvement in air quality in the region could be happening to the detriment of residents of Southeast Los Angeles.

Research shows that a high pollution score correlates with lower community health outcomes, such as cardiovascular disease, asthma, and childhood obesity, which makes Southeast Los Angeles residents particularly vulnerable to these conditions. The Latin American populations of Los Angeles County have been shown to be particularly susceptible to obesity. About half (52%) of all students attending schools in southeastern Los Angeles neighborhoods suffered from childhood obesity in 2018, compared to 37% for the average Los Angeles County student. The Los Angeles County Department of Public Health reports that overweight children have more asthma symptoms than non-obese children, and obesity can even cause asthma, worsening the health effects of the disease. pollution in southeast Los Angeles.

Neighborhood access to parks and food

While environmental factors such as air pollution have an impact on health, other physical environments also play an important role in the health of the community. For example, parks provide opportunities for fresh air and exercise, and can alleviate problems caused by pollution, as trees help filter pollutants from the air.

Areas such as Southeast Los Angeles can be densely populated, and access to recreation spaces is difficult to find, especially in low-income areas. According to the 2016 LA County Park Needs Assessment, Los Angeles County has an average of 1,000 people per 3.3 acres of parkland. While more than half of Southeast Los Angeles residents (57%) live within a mile of a park, Southeast Los Angeles had three times less recreational space than the rest of Los Angeles County with just 1 acre of parkland per 1,000 people in 2016.

In addition, grocery stores are an important neighborhood convenience for the community’s access to healthy food. According to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Food Access Research Atlas in 2019, 38% of the Los Angeles County population on average had limited access to grocery stores. In Southeast Los Angeles in particular, about one in five (20%) people live within a mile of a grocery store. While the Southeast has better access to grocery stores compared to LA County as a whole, that still means 84,000 people in Southeast Los Angeles qualify as having “poor access to grocery stores.” With less access to grocery stores this can mean a lack of fresh produce and healthy food options, these disparities in access to food can impact life expectancy and quality of life.


While the overall environmental quality and health of a region can tell a story, effective policy must reflect a nuanced consideration of the multiple factors and complexities affecting the health and environmental quality of a region. particular community. The Southeastern Los Angeles region of LA County offers special insight into the environmental and health challenges facing Latin American communities. Alliance for Better Community (ABC) is a founding and active member of the Southeast Los Angeles Collaboration (SELA). It is a network of organizations working together to strengthen SELA communities, build collective power and drive regional systemic change. Organizations within the collaboration continued to work together to address environmental quality and neighborhood well-being issues in the South East.

Additionally, ABC provided key recommendations for improving health outcomes in the Los Angeles County Latino / A community. ABC’s Latino / a Scorecard provides a roadmap for improving the well-being of Latino / a communities in Los Angeles. The report notes the following recommendations that may help reduce disparities in health outcomes in Southeast Los Angeles:

  • “Developing healthy environments for Latin Americans that promote livable communities” which include access to parks, green spaces, healthy food and clean air;
  • Declare racism and discrimination due to xenophobia as “public health crises” at county and state level; and
  • “Increase community health education programs” to support health literacy and reduce obesity

Aerial view of downtown Los Angeles

Aerial view of downtown Los Angeles on a smoggy morning with the San Gabriel Mountains in the background. | yenwen / Getty Images


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Alliance for a Better Community

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