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Local organization to gather data on health disparities in Lubbock neighborhoods

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Sarah Self-Walbrick/Texas Tech Public Media

The Lubbock Compact Foundation has been granted more than $482,000 to maintain a network of 40 air monitors, investigating the potential causes of health disparities in specific neighborhoods.

The Environmental Protection Agency selected 132 projects across the country to receive funding to conduct ambient air monitoring of pollutants in communities.

In a recent news conference, project leaders said the Lubbock Environmental Action Plan, or LEAP, is based on a 2021 study conducted by the Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center and Sam Houston State University.

This new three-year project is the latest step in an ongoing process, according to Milton Lee, the president of the Lubbock NAACP.

“We want all our communities to have equity, to have a means where they can have satisfaction where they live and have clean air and whatever they need,” Lee said.

In 2019, the NAACP filed a complaint against the City of Lubbock, claiming the City’s zoning practices disproportionately focus industrial zoning primarily on neighborhoods in North and East Lubbock, stemming from times of segregation.

Significant health disparities have been noted over recent years in North and East Lubbock residents, with breathing issues such as asthma linked to close proximity to industrial pollution.

Shankles said this will be a community-led effort “to resolve racially-motivated environmental disparities” in Lubbock, as well as providing a reference on general air quality across the city, but it starts with gathering data.

“In many ways, this lets the genie out of a bottle, and none of us can anticipate where we're going from here,” Shankles said. “The aim of our project will be to look at this from a scientific basis and follow it wherever it goes.”

Lala Chavez, who represents North Lubbock on the Lubbock Independent School District’s Board of Trustees, believes the renewed efforts in monitoring air quality in these neighborhoods is a sign of progress for community members who often feel brushed aside.

“It's for the greater good of our seniors and our kids that are now growing up here,” Chavez said. “In these neighborhoods that are around here, who for years have been set aside, long forgotten. But you know what, we’re here.”

Adam Hernandez, an active and longtime Lubbock citizen, is the communications chairman for Lubbock Compact. He said while the racial motivations for similar zoning practices in cities across the country are not uncommon, he’s excited to see steps being taken in his hometown.

“When you have concrete batch plants, or cottonseed oil plants, or the like, literally right across the street from where people live and raise their families,” Hernandez said. “Unfortunately, it's just the history of our nation that those were racially-motivated decisions that led to those being so close to the neighborhoods they're in. And so we really are excited that here in our little part of the nation, we get to look into it and possibly do something about it.”

This new federal funding stems from the 2021 American Rescue Plan, providing the EPA with a one-time supplemental appropriation of $100 million “to address health outcome disparities from pollution and the COVID-19 pandemic.” Of that money, around $53 million was committed to conducting air monitoring of pollutants.

A full list of awarded projects can be found here.

Sarah Self-Walbrick is the news director at Texas Tech Public Media, where she leads the news team and focuses on underreported stories in Lubbock. Sarah is a Lubbock native and a three-time graduate of Texas Tech University. She started her career at the Lubbock Avalanche-Journal.
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