Latino communities at special risk for lead pollution

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Environmental crises such as the Flint, Mich., lead pollution emergency could have a disproportionate effect on Latino families, experts and lawmakers say.

Rita Carreon, deputy vice president for health of the National Council of La Raza (NCLR), told The Hill Monday that initial relief efforts "left a lot of families in the dark."

Carreon explained that language and documentation were barriers for Hispanic families seeking emergency relief made available after the high concentration of lead in Flint's water system was revealed.

Rep. Xavier BecerraXavier BecerraDems double down on Nevada Latino vote Clinton makes new push to win the House Dems bullish on Hispanic support, turnout MORE (D-Calif.), the highest-ranking Hispanic in Congress, clarified why many undocumented immigrants avoid seeking out any public services, including emergency relief: They fear running into law enforcement, particularly immigration officials.

Initial reports stated that some emergency relief stations required identification to hand out bottled water or water filters. Becerra, who visited Flint on Friday, and Carreon both stated it is unlikely that the ID requirement was motivated by discrimination.

San Juana Olivares, chairwoman of the Genesee County Community Hispanic Collaborative, explained the ID policy was set up because  "people who didn't live in the area started coming to pick up water and … to keep track of the filters."

While ID restrictions were reduced, language remains a hurdle separating the poorest Latino families from relief.

Carreon acknowledged Gov. Rick Snyder's efforts to translate emergency announcements to Spanish, but Olivares said culturally appropriate translations remain a challenge, as does illiteracy.

At the federal level, Carreon said the NCLR reached out to relief organizations such as the Federal Emergency Management Agency, in order to help them "understand the different dynamics" of approaching Hispanic communities.

Becerra, whose district in downtown Los Angeles faces a pollution crisis caused by a shut-down battery plant, warned that national action is necessary, because "we know there is lead contamination putting populations at risk throughout the country."

He said current proposed legislation is not enough, but "to do nothing would be worst of all."

A bipartisan action to make funds available to Flint was agreed upon by the Senate last week and is expected to be pegged-on to House legislation on lead contamination passed in February.

Meanwhile, emergency services in Michigan will continue to distribute water, filters and perform home inspections to check for lead contamination.

Becerra claimed Michigan has the funds to replace or chemically treat the faulty pipes. He said "there is no excuse" for Snyder's role in the contamination and issued a challenge to the governor. 

"You broke it, you fix it," Becerra said.