The South Los Angeles 28th Street Elementary School community has been fighting for eight years to close down the polluting plant that was making their kids and teachers sick. On Monday, teary-eyed but triumphant, families and teachers joined Councilwoman Jan Perry to announced that they have won the fight: Palace Plating, the chrome plating facility that the city found responsible for releasing toxins, is relocating.
Topping the list of toxins found in the South Los Angeles school's sewer system was Chromium 6, the same cancer-causing toxin that Erin Brockovich fought against in Pacific Gas & Electric town, Hinkley, California.
Mexican-immigrant Martha Sanchez knew nothing about Chromium 6 when she and her two children moved to South Los Angeles in 1999. Soon after enrolling at 28th Street Elementary, Sanchez's children were suffering from rashes, nosebleeds, nausea and asthma. Sanchez's daughter told Intersections South LA, "I would get sick really easily. My nose was bleeding every night and I would vomit almost every day."
As the Los Angeles Times reports, Sanchez began knocking on her neighbors' doors to see if other children were experiencing the same problems. She explained, "I knew if I left the problem in someone else's hands, it would not get resolved."
By 2003, Sanchez had learned English and become chapter president of the Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment (ACCE). Over the next few years, repeated environmental violations by the plant were found, and, in 2007, the city sued the plant alleging it was still not in compliance.
ACCE organizer Peter Kuhns confirmed with the Huffington Post that the city and company settled the suit last month, on the terms that the plant shut down by Dec. 31 and pay $750,000 in restitution to the Los Angeles Unified School District.
Kuhns said over the phone that, "this is a huge, long-fought-after victory." He also has high hopes for what the move could mean for the rest of the country, saying "We hope this campaign serves a model for relocating similar facilities to more appropriate places, not near homes or schools, and for passing more regulatory laws."
According to Kuhn, it was no accident that the pollution-spewing facility was allowed to stand next to a school for so long. "Study after study has shown that these types of facilities are disproportionately located in low-income communities of color," he asserted. "It's clear they're allowed to operate because these communities don't have political influence."
In addition to the resolved criminal lawsuit, a civil lawsuit is pending, with 50 teachers, parents, students and community individuals alleging toxic exposure. Vincent Vallin Bennett, trial lawyer for the case, told HuffPost that the plaintiffs report continuous odors coming from the plant, burning sensations in the throat and eyes, asthma and an "enormous amount of nosebleeds." Other plaintiffs allege cancer, death and birth deformities connected to released toxins. One woman, who taught at 28th Street and is a plaintiff in Bennett's case, gave birth to three children with disabilities. Her eldest daughter, who was developmentally disabled, died last year at 18 years old.
"The state of California has already declared Palace Plating a cancer cluster," Bennett said. "We have a trial scheduled for August 2012, and we plan to finally win financial restitution for these families who have gone through horrifying experiences."
CORRECTION: This story has been edited to clarify that Hinkley, CA is the town that was polluted by Pacific Gas & Electric.