Born and raised in a family of community activists, mark! Lopez persuaded the state of California to provide comprehensive lead testing and cleanup of East Los Angeles homes contaminated by a battery smelter that had polluted the community for over three decades.

Bordered by the Los Angeles River and crisscrossed by the area’s notoriously congested freeways, LA’s Eastside is home to the densest population of working-class Latino communities in the country. Residents bear the brunt of the region’s pollution, with heavy cargo traffic coming in and out of the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach, and industrial plants operating well within breathing distance of homes, schools, and parks.

Among these facilities was an aging battery recycling plant, which had been in operation since 1922 with minimal updates and repairs. Georgia-based Exide took over the smelter in 2000 and ramped up the volume of batteries processed at the plant—and with it, emission levels of dangerous pollutants such as lead and arsenic.

A sampling of dust on rooftops of nearby buildings found lead levels of 52,000 parts per million—where 1,000 parts per million is considered hazardous waste. Lead is a powerful neurotoxin that accumulates in the body over time. It can cause learning disabilities even at very low levels, and as such, there is no safe lead level in children. Read more.