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Minority Jobs and Clean Air

In their column “Will There Be Jobs in the Clean Air?” Daniel Garcia and Richard Weinstein (Op-Ed Page, March 14) ask us to consider if agencies like the South Coast Air Quality Management District are truly responsive to the public needs in pursuing a “single-minded goal of cleaning the air.” They advise the reader that a serious effort to clean the air in the Los Angeles area will displace minority workers and the poor from thousands of jobs they now hold. One example cited is that 30,000 jobs held by mostly Latinos could be immediately impacted by proposals to eliminate the use of solvents central to the operation of the furniture industry.

Well Daniel and Richard, I earned funds for my college education by exposure to solvents and chemicals. I was a 17-year-old janitor in a Phoenix, Ariz., computer plant. I was unskilled like so many employed in the Los Angeles industry. There was a solvent for the floor, the machine shop, and even the little patch of grass in front of the factory had a chemical application. Of course, nobody told us that those solvents would forever alter our physical condition. Today at age 45, I am still paying for that college education because of the damage to my right lung--do to the effects of those solvents. And I have never smoked.

When I and my friend drove to work each afternoon to a location on the outskirts of Phoenix, we would see the agricultural workers, planting and harvesting in the fields with their children at their side. Perhaps they were practicing their civil rights to work in the field of their choice. Yet, the children spent long days denied everything from toilets to schools.

My companion and I referred to the farms as the Flanders Field of Phoenix where instead of poppies, deaths were grown. However, we did not realize that a similar fate awaited for us each night just a mile up the road.

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In my hometown parish church there is a stained-glass window dedicated to the farmer who owned those fields. He did make a major contribution to the economy of Phoenix. Of course, that farmer and the manager of the factory where I worked did know what their unskilled employees did not--the chemicals would damage our bodies.

I agree that clean air and a safe work environment have an economic impact on society. I also believe that impact is positive and I am confident that producers will find safer means of production once they are forced to.

It is the responsibility of those who know the dangers of environmental degradation to protect those who either do not know or have no power to protect themselves and their families. Therefore, I applaud the mission of the South Coast Air Quality Management District and the agencies who seek a healthier Los Angeles for all citizens.

JAMES DEL ROGERS

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San Diego


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