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An amazing and in-depth story from California Watch:

The Martin family lives 10 minutes from downtown Los Angeles, in a neat yellow house in a city called Maywood.

Starting a few blocks from their home, nearly 2,000 factories churn out Southern California’s hot dogs, pesticides, patio furniture and other products. Trucks rumble off the I-710 freeway into sprawling freight rail yards. Odors of rotting animal carcasses waft through the family’s windows on hot summer nights.

The Martins also have endured years of illness.

From the time Anaiz Martin was born until she was a toddler, her father would carry her in his arms, his big mustache tickling her baby cheeks. This simple embrace carried a haunting consequence. By age 3, Anaiz weighed just 19 pounds and could barely raise her head. Her parents said they were told by doctors that Salvador Martin’s mustache probably held sickening levels of lead from his plating factory job.

The heavy metal attacked her neurological system, permanently robbing her of critical learning skills.

Two decades later, her family’s woes continue. Anaiz, now 21, her mother and siblings – Adilene, 22, and Sal Jr., 18 – have suffered irritable bowel syndrome, an ovarian cyst, skin rashes, chronic nausea, diarrhea, asthma and depression.

Their mother, Josefina, frets constantly about what she thinks are likely causes: the air they breathe, the ground beneath their home and, most of all, the gunky black, brown or yellow water that has intermittently run from their faucets for years.

“Sometimes I think, ‘Oh my God, I can’t take it anymore,’ ” Josefina, 45, said during an interview in the summer of 2010. “I try to keep myself up and going, but I am really upset all the time. I just want to know what’s going on with my family and all of this contamination.”

The USC Annenberg Dennis A. Hunt Fund for Health Journalism and California Watch commissioned tests to measure the family’s exposure levels to dangerous metals and industrial byproducts.

Americans have been randomly sampled by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for 30 years for chemicals linked to cancer, developmental disabilities and other problems, in a process known as biomonitoring. But some experts say one group has not been adequately sampled: people living in the shadow of industry.

The Martin family is among millions of Americans in similar circumstances – forced by their meager wages to live near industrial areas, including aging smokestacks, landfills, locomotives and other potential hazards. Yet because government officials make little attempt to dig deep into toxic exposure in ordinary people, it is impossible to know if they are unique or part of a much larger potential problem in hundreds of neighborhoods across the nation.

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The Martins’ home and their small city sit eight miles southeast of downtown Los Angeles, at the crossroads of an American manufacturing and freight-hauling juggernaut. About 1 square mile, Maywood is the state’s most densely populated community. Nearly 50,000 residents – 98 percent Latino – are squeezed into aging apartment blocks and cozy tract houses between a smorgasbord of pollutants.

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