A Toxic Legacy in an Orange County Neighborhood

The contaminated soil and neglected infrastructure in Santa Ana's Barrio Logan community are a result of decades of land use decisions and willful disinvestment, one journalist writes.

2 minute read

January 31, 2022, 8:00 AM PST

By Diana Ionescu @aworkoffiction


Yvette Cabrera recounts the history of Barrio Logan, a predominantly Latino neighborhood in Orange County, California. Logan, known as the "Plymouth Rock of Santa Ana" for its early ties to the Mexican American community, has long experienced neglect from the city. Local activists here have banded together to fight against polluting businesses and secure safety and infrastructure improvements such as speed bumps and sidewalks.

Zoned for industrial use, Barrio Logan has experienced waves of environmental degradation and soil contamination from petroleum, heavy metals, pesticides, and other harmful substances. Yet "Residents knew little about this soil contamination, despite the city’s environmental assessments calling for a deeper exploration of potential lead exposure in the neighborhood in the late 1970s." Cabrera notes that "Comprehensive citywide soil test results were not publicly available until 2017, when I published an investigation that found hazardous levels of lead in the soil in neighborhoods across Santa Ana, which today is Orange County’s second-largest city."

Cabrera argues that Logan's degradation was a result of conscious zoning and land use decisions made throughout the last century, decisions that allowed harmful industrial businesses to build facilities adjacent to residential neighborhoods without much public disclosure. And this isn't limited to Barrio Logan. Around the country, millions of people live in areas similarly contaminated by toxic substances, unaware of the danger beneath their feet, in the air, or in their water supply.

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