Workers Scrub Dirty
Crews of migrant workers have allegedly reduced the San Fernando Valley's smoggy ring by up to 80%. But human rights groups are crying foul.
By George Wolfe
SAN FERNANDO VALLEY --Driving along Highway 101,
you wouldn't even know they are there, about 250-feet up the hillsides.
But since June, migrant workers have been diligently scrubbing this
valley's nasty ring, a remnant of decades of exhaustive automotive
traffic and other pollutants that has established Los Angeles as
the smog capital of the United States.
Migrant Headaches, a non-profit group that represents
the rights of migrant workers, leaked information to the press about
the little known program which pays workers a quarter of the minimum
wage to perform the undesirable labor.
people work for peanuts at the most toxic heights of the valley...
this must stop!"
— Penelope DeChristo,
Executive Director, Migrant Headaches
Penelope DeChristo, the group's executive director,
says, "These poor people work for peanuts at the most toxic
heights of the valley. At that altitude, especially in the summer
months, it's a real health threat. This must stop!"
Workers are given a baseball cap, a crude cleaning
brush and a couple of Brill-O pads. They routinely tie t-shirts
or bandanas around their knees to protect them as they scrub the
dusty ground and ozone-soaked shrubs.
Pio Martinez, a migrant worker originally from
Oaxaca, acknowledges that the work is bad but says he's grateful
for even a few crumbs of the American dream. Pointing to the freeway,
he says, "Yes, hot... very hot... but maybe some day I drive
a car, too, like all them."
State Environmental Protection Agency sources
denied knowledge of the program, but anonymous inside sources confirmed
Migrant Headaches' claims. According to one source, Los Angeles
is a testing ground for the environmental clean-up program which
has been in effect since 1996.
Despite high levels of smog relative to other
U.S. cities, the ring around the San Fernando Valley has supposedly
been reduced by 80% this summer. Crews are now being dispatched
to other problematic areas such as the Hollywood Hills, Pasadena,
Glendora, Redlands, San Bernardino and Lake Arrowhead.
NOT SO BAD: Migrant worker Pio Martinez manages
to keep an upbeat image despite the Depression-like work conditions.