Environment and Health in Irwindale
Pollution and other environmental hazards damage not only our natural surroundings and climate, but can also negatively impact health outcomes and economic productivity. A report by the Liberty Hill Foundation estimated that in California alone, air pollution causes 19,000 premature deaths, 280,000 cases of asthma symptoms, and more than 1 million respiratory-related school absences annually.
Furthermore, the American Lung Association consistently ranks the Los Angeles-Long Beach area as one of the most polluted places in the country, posing major health risks for our residents. But what happens when an area ranks as one of the most polluted places in California without experiencing the correlated adverse health effects?
Irwindale is a small incorporated city in the San Gabriel Valley close to Baldwin Park and West Covina. The CalEnviroScreen 3.0, a 2017 report by the California Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment, ranked Irwindale in the top 99.9% for pollution burden in the state of California.
Pollution burden, measured on a scale of 1 to 10, accounts for factors like air quality, drinking water contaminants, hazardous and solid waste facilities, and traffic density. Learn more about the measure here.
Pollution Burden Scores:
Baldwin Park: 7.20
Los Angeles County: 6.19
Explore Pollution Burden Scores in your neighborhood in the map below.
Irwindale’s high pollution rates don’t come as a surprise considering the small community’s role as a mining and industrial hub in Los Angeles. The majority of the material making up Los Angeles’ vast freeway system has come from Irwindale’s mining pits.
A History of Industry
At the turn of the 20th century, Los Angeles was rapidly growing in population and industry, and Irwindale provided much of the raw materials for the accompanying growth in infrastructure. In the early 1900s, the area that is now Irwindale had 17 mining sites occupying nearly 70 percent of its land.
Today, six mining quarries remain active and many of the remaining pits are now home to factories including a MillerCoors Brewery, a Huy Fong Foods (the maker of Sriracha sauce) factory, and the Irwindale Event Center and Speedway. The 210 and 605 freeways also run directly through much of the city, giving the area a high traffic density.
Despite having a significantly higher pollution burden than the LA County average and the neighboring community of Baldwin Park, Irwindale has substantially better asthma and cardiovascular-related health outcomes than the county average.
Irwindale averages only 39.7 asthma-related ER visits per 10,000 people (compared to a county average of 52.2 visits), ranking the city in the 41st percentile in the state. The city averages 6.7 cardiovascular-related ER visits per 10,000 people compared to the county’s 8.4, ranking it in the 33rd percentile. Neighboring Baldwin Park averages 59.6 and 10.2 visits per 10,000 people, respectively.
Below, we examine one possible reason why Irwindale might have a higher pollution burden while simultaneously performing significantly better than county and neighboring community averages in environmental-related health outcomes.
Irwindale residents have better access to healthcare than surrounding communities. Irwindale has 9 healthcare institutions per 10,000 people compared to a county average of 2.87 institutions. Neighboring Baldwin Park has less than 1 healthcare institution per 10,000 people. Furthermore, only 15.5 percent of Irwindale’s residents lack health insurance compared to 22.7 percent of those in Baldwin Park and 18.4 percent countywide.
Beyond traditional means of healthcare access, Irwindale’s local government also provides its residents with social and healthcare support. In the 2016 fiscal year the city of Irwindale’s budget was $35,196,800 for the 1,434 residents in the city, a ratio of approximately $24,500 per resident. The government spent just over a million dollars on an insurance program to help its residents with vision and prescription services and over half a million dollars on services for seniors.
The neighboring city of Baldwin Park had a budget of $60,465,341 for 76,464 residents, a ratio of only $790 per resident. The city of Baldwin Park didn’t provide any supplementary insurance program for its residents and spent less than half the amount of Irwindale on services for its seniors.
Irwindale’s government is likely able to afford so many services for its residents thanks to the very industries that cause so much environmental burden in the city. The government received $3 million dollars from mining fees in the last fiscal year and has also worked out deals with several of the other large companies with factories in the city limits. For example, Irwindale receives tax revenues based on the amount of beer brewed annually at the MillerCoors brewery. It appears that the city is able to use fees collected from polluting industries in order to mitigate the effects of those industries on its residents.
Although Irwindale’s population is a small sample size, the city provides an interesting case to show that high rates of pollution in an area don’t always have to lead to worse-than-average health outcomes. It raises questions about what role polluting industries can play in mitigating the effects of their harmful behavior on both people and the environment.
City of Baldwin Park. Adopted Budget: Fiscal Year 2016-17. 2016.
City of Irwindale. Annual Budget: Fiscal Year 2016-17. 2016.
Liberty Hill Foundation. Hidden Hazards: A Call to Action for Healthy Livable Communities. December 2010.
Office for Environmental Health Hazard Assessment. CalEnviroScreen 3.0. January 2017.
Peterson, Robert. Irwindale: Mining the Building Blocks of Los Angeles. KCET, August 2016.