MUST READ: ‘Like a dumping ground’: Latina moms in Texas border city are fighting air pollution

El Paso, Texas – Today NBC News spotlighted the Latina mothers joining forces with environmental groups to demand legal action on air quality issues in  Chamizal, a neighborhood in south-central El Paso. According to the American Lung Association, El Paso is the 13th worst U.S. city for ozone pollution, and Chamizal has been described as a “dumping ground” by its residents. 

“He started going to the hospital every two to three weeks,” mother and activist Nayelly Melendez said of her six-month-old son, one of the many young victims of Chamizal’s respiratory disease-inducing smog. In response, Melendez and many mothers like her joined Familias Unidas del Chamizal, a group that is suing the EPA for the increase in oil and gas production in El Paso.  

According to a report from the Clean Air Task Force, the League of United Latin American Citizens, and the National Hispanic Medical Association, 1.81 million Latinos in the U.S. live within half a mile of an oil and gas facility. What’s worse, About 1.7 million live in counties that face a higher-than-average cancer risk from toxins emitted by those facilities. 

“I think we are at a critical moment where things can change,” said Antonieta Cadiz, the senior manager of Latino engagement for Climate Power. “We have President Biden who is actually committed to tackling environmental injustice. You have Build Back Better, which actually is a historic step. If it passes the Senate, it will be a huge win when it comes to environmental justice.” 

She credits the members of Familias Unidas – and community leaders of color across the country – for making environmental racism the federal issue that it is today.