Environmental conditions

Los Angeles, CA
United States

Better Watts Initiative, Watts Neighborhood Council Watts Labor Community Action Committee, Think Watts Foundation UCLA
Social media handle(s)
@501cthree (Instagram), @501CTHREEorg(Twitter)

Examined concentrations of lead and contaminants in Watts residents’ drinking water and expanded 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 people 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 collaborated with the Better Watts Initiative, Watts Neighborhood Council, Watts Labor Community Action Committee, Think Watts Foundation, and UCLA to test the water quality in more than 590 homes. These organizations hope to increase access to clean drinking water in Watts by advocating for expanded access to point-of use filters, free water distribution points, and service line replacements where necessary.

501CTHREE and the Better Watts Initiative codeveloped a test plan in which they employed a stratified sample of housing units based on the year the units were constructed to identify participants. 501CTHREE and the Better Watts Initiative recruited and trained over 30 residents of the Watts community to take water samples and to administer a health questionnaire with each household to identify indicators of lead contamination. After water samples were collected, they were brought to UCLA for lab testing, which allowed the research team to conduct a deeper study of contaminants and sample characteristics than if the sampling had been conducted in homes.

Test results were first provided to participants—who had the option to receive follow-up support from the Watts Labor Community Action Committee and the Think Watts Foundation—then visualized in maps indicating the presence and levels of contaminants in residents’ drinking water. The survey results also found that many Watts residents don’t trust the quality of their water sources nor the water utility companies that are responsible for providing these sources.

The group plans to share these findings with the city to advocate for both short-term mitigation, such as distributing more point-of-use filters, and long-term solutions, such as implementing policies at the local level and funding lead pipe replacement. This will include conversations with the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power and a meeting with the California Water Board about lead pipe replacement funding. To share their findings, the Watts Labor Community Action Committee will host an event to present results to the community and connect residents to resources for lead mitigation and policy action; the Better Watts Initiative will produce resources and media for community members; and 501CTHREE will produce the final report and dashboard. The group has already received local media coverage, and they aim to share their future findings with other news outlets.