Soccoro Diaz is a single mom with seven kids. Just a few years ago her family was homeless and staying at a hotel. Now they live in a small, two-story, low-income apartment at the Jordan Downs Housing Projects in Watts in South Central LA. Three of her children suffer from acute asthma. Why are her kids — and a lot of other kids across LA County — sick? It’s probably the air.

A recent “State of the Air” report from the American Lung Association gives LA County’s air quality a big fat ‘F.’  Smog, the brown stuff also known as ozone pollution, is still a problem – though it’s a lot better than it used to be. But there’s also particle pollution – sometimes called soot. And where does soot come from? According to the report, things that drive and fly cause 90 percent of the pollution in the region.  Diesel-fueled trucks, trains, and ships are a big part of that. That’s the soot. And there’s one place where all these vehicles come together – The Ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach.  The report calls the areas near the ports “hot spots.”

Produced by Tena Rubio with photography by Blair Wells. This was produced as part of the Independent Producer Project, KCRW’s initiative to cultivate and support the work of independent media producers and artists. For more information, visit

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Tena Rubio for BioTena Rubio is an award-winning radio journalist based in San Francisco and Los Angeles. She’s a frequent contributor to NPR’s Latino USA and is the former host & executive producer of the nationally syndicated show, Making Contact. A former TV producer & news writer, she is currently Board Secretary for the Association of Independents in Radio (AIR). This work was produced as a project for USC Annenberg School for Communication & Journalism, The California Endowment Health Journalism Fellowships.


S/W Ver: 9E.03.39RBlair Wells is a Los Angeles-based photographer.  His love of documentary photography has led him to capture the face and heart of social issues, including projects featuring post-Katrina New Orleans day-workers, the everyday moments of a Santa Barbara homeless family and health issues of kids living near the Port of Los Angeles. Blair also organized participatory photography projects involving the deaf community and teenagers with autism. Through it all, the human condition – the struggles and successes of everyday people – remains the single most compelling subject of his work.