You may not have heard this on the news, so I'm sharing. Recently a two-day fire after the Marathon refinery exploded on the border of Carson and Wilmington, California, filled my hometown with toxic chemicals.

Although you have most likely never been to Wilmington, I want you to imagine what it's like growing up hearing refinery explosions, having sports practice canceled because the air quality is too bad, and missing school because of asthma. That's what 60,000 people in my hometown experience regularly, where 99 percent of people are Latinx and the rate of childhood asthma is double the national average.

Sadly, the current COVID-19 crisis underlines the health impact of dirty air. Research with related viruses suggests that those living in areas with dirty air will do worse if infected with the novel coronavirus -- while the shutdown of economic activity in China and Italy may have temporarily cut pollution enough to save lives

No matter what industry you are in, I want you to care about this.

That's what 60,000 people in my hometown experience regularly, where 99 percent of people are Latinx and the rate of childhood asthma is double the national average.

Photo by Arny Mogensen on Unsplash

I want you to care about the fact that our reliance on oil and plastic means the oil industry can continue to evade California's environmental regulations. I can’t blame the industry for doing its job to meet our demand for oil. And I can’t blame us for relying on cars when getting around California without a car is extremely challenging.

I want you to care about the fact that Marathon refinery became the largest refinery on the West Coast coast after the South Coast Air Quality Management District, our air quality regulator, conducted a flawed environmental impact report. The AQMD became more industry-friendly after a Republican takeover of its board in 2016.

I want you to care about the terrible (and sadly typical) media reporting on this incident that completely lacked any conversation about environmental justice or the social and political context that allowed this fire to be.

I want you to care about our city planning and housing system that keeps low-income Brown folks segregated to polluted communities without many options for leaving, while keeping us reliant on cars.

I can't do anything about the oil refinery fire, but I'm committed to passing policies & making infrastructure investments that make it easier for us to get to jobs and live without reliance on oil. I'm committed to people in low-income communities of color having more opportunities to live in healthy neighborhoods. I'm committed to having government regulators and politicians who protect the health and safety of our most vulnerable populations, rather than catering to industry lobbyists.

That is why I strongly support the work of Greenlining. Greenlining’s Environmental Equity team works to bring clean energy investments into disadvantaged communities, promote clean transportation and mobility in underserved communities, and advance integrated, community-driven solutions that address poverty and pollution together. Other groups lead important work on quickly ramping down use of fossil fuels and regulating producers to mitigate harm to frontline communities.  We need to take a policy approach that holds regulators accountable, while also centering communities of color in the conversation. 

Lauren Valdez is the Co-Founder of Forte Labs and consults on improving health equity in communities of color. She is also a Greenlining Leadership Academy graduate and the Vice-Chair of the Greenlining Academy Alumni Association. This post represents her personal opinion.