In 1987, MELA took on a toxic waste incinerator being planned for the East L.A. city of Vernon. As with the prison, permits for the incinerator had been issued without any environmental impact reports. Concerned about being directly downwind from the incinerator, MELA filed suit on behalf of the community. They also led marches and packed public hearings. After three years of constant pressure, the company abandoned plans for the incinerator. Under Castillo’s leadership, MELA also succeeded in stopping a hazardous waste treatment plant near a high school and had a company’s conditional-use permit revoked for storing hazardous waste improperly. They have also worked with local industry to encourage environmental responsibility. MELA is recognized as a political force in the region that has helped to set important legal precedents for other grassroots environmental justice groups.
Castillo continued to be the spiritual force behind MELA until her death in 1998 at the age of 84. Her courage and commitment to environmental justice continues to inspire those working for the well-being of disadvantaged communities.