The Jordan Downs housing and Jordan High School have spent the last 60-plus years living and working adjacent to the S&W Atlas Iron & Metal Company. This has caused real concern for residents and students as they have been exposed to toxic waste, hazardous air pollution, and dangerous projectiles, as Atlas used their site as a metal waste dump.
OW conducted a Q&A with the president of Coalition for Healthy Families, Timothy Watkins, to learn more about the history, the effect the waste dump has had on the community and the petition he is circulating regarding the issue.
Q: Atlas has been using the area for a dumpsite for years. What took so long for LAUSD to want change?
A: The unfortunate realization that even if their lawsuits were successful, the dangers posed to the kids would continue. Public awareness and multiple town halls around the subject of environmental toxicity around Jordan High might have played a role.
Q: Have any students or staff suffered any physical harm from projectiles?
A: There have been news reports about exploding projectiles breaching the Jordan High School campus. A construction worker was nearly struck by a projectile.
Q: Do residents feel like they’re being used as scapegoats or purposely exposed to increased populated air because they are low-income neighborhoods?
A: I can’t speak for the residents as a whole. But as a 68-year resident of Watts, I can guarantee that the residents of Watts have not been well informed about the danger they’re exposed to.
I ask if it’s good for Watts, then why not move it to Beverly Hills? Why not relocate the operation next to Beverly Hills High School? One hundred years of malign neglect in Watts informs me that at every level, elected and appointed officials have been MIA on the subject of Environmental Racism in Watts. They will all tout a record of their achievements on the subject, but cumulatively, far too little substance has been done to reduce exposure.
Q: Do the loud noises affect students’ ability to learn?
A: Yes. Students report having to cup their ears from the loud sounds including cars being crushed and pieces of metal being torn apart. See the website for examples.
Also, students that live in a hyper-violent environment whether from crime, noise, blight, or otherwise, certainly become desensitized to it over time. But there’s no doubt that noise, dust, and blight are all produced by Atlas Metals without pause throughout every school day. It should be noted that Jordan High is located south of Atlas Metals. North of Atlas is Jordan Downs housing development. I’m not only concerned about the quality of life of students, I’m concerned about the quality of life for all who call themselves residents of Watts.
Q: What is the goal of the petition?
A: As the CEO and president of WLCAC, founder of the Better Watts Initiative, and founding member of Watts Healthy Families Initiative, we’d like to see the business relocate itself and then remediate the property. We’d then like to see the property turned over to a newly formed, locally operated, and governed real estate trust by the people of Watts to support future economic development.
Q: What are some things parents, staff, and students can do to help coalition and bring more attention to the problem?
A: Share results of most recent blood tests from their school-aged children showing lead content (without sharing identities). Sign the petition and join organizing efforts.
The Coalition of Healthy Families has a petition on their website that interested readers can sign: https://tinyurl.com/3jsvsz48. The site also contains additional information about the lawsuit between LAUSD and Atlas.