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Maywood residents facing pollution outline community goals

Ashley Alvarado/California WatchBottles hold water samples taken from Maywood residents' faucets.

The invite was a pleasant surprise. Janet Wilson’s excellent report on the severe health struggles of one Maywood family and the polluted conditions that envelop them had run recently, and I was doing research for “A Field Guide to Maywood Pollution Issues,” a downloadable directory of key players. I reached out to Héctor Alvarado (no relation), an activist with Padres Unidos de Maywood. And he invited to me to one of the weekly Comité Cívico del Agua meetings. 

That I was the guest of honor came as a complete shock. One night this week, I walked into the Unión de Vecinos office space on East Slauson Avenue a few minutes before 6:30. I was early, and yet 20 people sat in a circle, waiting for me. Handwritten posters outlined goals for the community; two bookshelves stood crammed with bottles of polluted water. Héctor introduced me, and then, one by one, Maywood residents stood to introduce themselves.

Over the next hour and a half, I listened as people shared their Maywood stories. Some, like Cristóforo Castro, have lived in Maywood for more than four decades. All have been affected by its polluted water. They pay for water three times, they said: at the meter (with prices that rise and that residents are unable to monitor), large decanters for everyday water use and the bottles they drink. That does not include what they pay for all the health issues: “There is illness all over Maywood,” Cristóforo said in Spanish.

The group was appreciative of California Watch’s reporting on Maywood and Eastern Group Publication’s translation of that reporting. At one recent weekly meeting, they had screened California Watch’s video about the Martin family’s health issues.

“We watched that video, and we said there are three things that we can do,” Héctor said in Spanish. “We can go home, pack and move. We can just accept this as God’s punishment. Or we can fight.” In Maywood, they’ve decided to fight.

Ashley Alvarado/California WatchCristóforo Castro of Maywood holds a bottle of purchased, clean water (on the left) and a bottle of contaminated tap water.

During the course of the meeting, Gloria Alvarez, Eastern’s managing editor, and staff writer Gloria Angelina Castillo joined us. They came in time to hear community members outline their goals for Maywood.

In accordance with the City of Maywood Safe Drinking Water Act, the residents want to consolidate the three water companies that serve Maywood and have this be a public agency, accountable to the people. They’ve started a petition to do so, and in three weeks’ time, they collected more than twice the required number of signatures. Their goals are timed to the November 2012 election.

In the meantime, “we have to be patient and present. We can’t be desperate,” Héctor said.

I hadn’t come to talk; I came to listen. But I did want to know what role they thought California Watch and the media should have in Maywood. We talked about some great ideas, and I’ll be excited to share them with you as they develop. The collective response to my question depressed and inspired me: They just want the media to pay attention. Maywood is small, a little bigger than 1 square mile. Their issues are not sexy. And they say it’s hard to get people to take them or their concerns seriously.

Now, though, they said, they could hold Janet's story in their hands and demand to be heard and respected. On nights like this, I love my job.

If you live in Maywood or near sources of pollution, California Watch wants to hear your stories. Please click here to share your insights. 

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