Los Angeles, CA
Examining concentrations of lead and contaminants in Watts residents’ drinking water and expanding access to mitigation resources to address disparities in water quality.
Although the federal government banned residential use of lead-based paints in 1978, lead contamination in tap water remains a major health hazard for residents of color, who disproportionately live in systemically underserved communities. In Watts, a neighborhood of Los Angeles, many residents are unaware that they are exposed to significant concentrations of lead and other toxins and are underinformed about the threats they face from this exposure. To increase awareness of the hazards of lead exposure and to provide residents with the resources they need to obtain safe water, 501CTHREE is collaborating with the Better Watts Initiative (BWI), Watts Neighborhood Council, Watts Labor Community Action Committee (WLCAC), and Think Watts Foundation to test the water quality in more than 800 homes. These organizations also hope to increase access to clean drinking water in Watts by distributing point-of-use water filters, locating and expanding free water distribution points, and advocating for service line replacements when necessary.
501CTHREE and BWI will co-develop a test plan, employing a stratified sample based on the year of home construction to identify participants. 501CTHREE will train BWI members and Think Watts Foundation volunteers to test drinking water for high levels of 16 different contaminants and to administer a health questionnaire aimed at identifying indicators of lead contamination. 501CTHREE will provide the results to participants—who will have the option of receiving follow-up support from WLCAC and the Think Watts Foundation—and then visualize the information in maps showing the presence and levels of contaminants in residents’ drinking water. WLCAC, BWI, and the Watts Neighborhood Council are led by members of the Watts community, and all three organizations have prior experience with organizing and service delivery.
WLCAC will host an event to present results to the community and connect residents to resources for lead mitigation and policy action; BWI will produce resources and media for community members; and 501CTHREE will produce the final report and dashboard. The groups will then share these findings with the city and use them to advocate for both short-term mitigation, such as distributing more point-of-use filters, and long-term solutions such as funding lead pipe replacement.