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A Mega-Dump in the Desert

A Mega-Dump in the Desert

Picture of Ruxandra Guidi

Just two hours east from my home in urban San Diego, the Anza-Borrego mountains give way to open skies and desert, followed by miles upon miles of bright green crop land. The semi-rural Imperial County is home to almost 200,000 people, most of them Latino, spread out over 4,000 square miles into small but tight-knit communities. Life is strikingly different from the bustle of the coastal cities; one of the reasons why I love reporting in this part of Southern California.

But Imperial County's geographic isolation can also make life difficult for its residents. Here, access to health care is limited. As one of the poorest regions in California, Imperial County suffers from a chronically high rate of unemployment-the highest in the country. There are few hospitals, with the majority of health issues being handled by small community clinics, and few specialized physicians on staff.
As it is, the Imperial Valley has one of the worst particulate matter pollution problems in California. Dust, pesticides, and smoke from burning fields in the region are among the causes of higher rates of asthma in children--over 20% of children are diagnosed with asthma compared to the national average of 13.7%. This type of pollution has also been linked to bronchitis and lung cancer among local residents. Exposure to such environmental factors results in increased hospitalizations and visits to the emergency room.

So when I heard about a new landfill which would welcome 20,000 tons of solid waste from Los Angeles to the Imperial County desert every single day, I immediately thought about its likely, and perhaps unintended, impact. Diesel trucks and trains would be in a constant cycle of picking up and delivering trash for the 420-mile round-trip journey from Los Angeles. While promising jobs, development, and host fees for Imperial County, the imported trash would likely contaminate the local air, water, and soil, and further threaten the overall health of residents.

During this fellowship, my hope is to assess the hard-to-quantify risks that a landfill may pose on the people of Imperial County--a population that, as it is, already bears a disproportionate burden of environmental hazards and health disparities.

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