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You are the True Expert about Your Community

2012 September 7

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By Teri Blanton

The community that I grew up in rural Southeast Kentucky was a federal Superfund site and learning that the water in the community I lived in was polluted was my first experience with the need to advance environmental justice. That was the beginning of my understanding of what environmental justice is and the importance of engaging communities to have a voice in the environmental decisions that affect where they live.

Teri at a Rally

Over the years I have learned a lot of lessons about how to meet with people and educate them about how they can stand up for their right to a healthy and sustainable community. For example, when reaching out to people, you can’t communicate from a place of anger, because it will not reach anyone. Instead, you must be aware of your own feelings and have the ability to control them to interact effectively with others.

Also, when you talk to people about what environmental justice is you need to make the human connections clear. For example, when I talk to people in our rural communities about the effects of mountaintop mining, I remind them that mountaintop mining production has been linked to many possible public health problems that have a direct effect on people’s lives, including a 42% increase in birth defects, according to one study. But, statistics by themselves are just numbers. Effective leaders know that in order to draw out empathy from others, they must focus on the human impacts pollution can have on the places we live, work, play, and pray.

My organization, the Kentuckians For The Commonwealth, initiated The Canary Project that aims to expand awareness among Kentucky’s residents about the pollution that can result from coal production in our communities. The project is named after the old mining practice of bringing canaries into the mines to check for toxic gases. When the gases became too dangerous for the canaries, the miners knew to leave the mine. As we say, we are the canaries, warning everyone about the dangers of environmental injustices. We must build awareness, because everyone on this planet deserves clean air, clean water, and healthy communities.

About the Author: Teri Blanton is currently a Canary Fellow, and the past Chair for the citizens group Kentuckians For The Commonwealth. A survivor of a Superfund toxic waste site near her home in Harlan County, Kentucky, Teri has worked to educate communities and advocate for pollution prevention across the country for the better part of the last 20 years.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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10 Responses leave one →
  1. Ann V. Marquez permalink
    September 12, 2012

    We would like to strengthen Green-Peace Curriculum in the Diocese of Iligan, Lanao del Norte, Philippines.

    The comments here and EPA imformations willgive us some more ideas on how to put it inside School-based and apply in the community based.

  2. Master Melvin M. Lusterio permalink
    September 15, 2012

    The Good Force be with you!

    Well done, Teri! It is good to know you care for us and for the environment. Keep up the good work!

    Live forever and prosper!

  3. Maria permalink
    September 30, 2012

    Great story about the issues being faced in rural america.

  4. Jimmy permalink
    March 14, 2013

    A very powerful story on Coal Country. So many people seem to ignore the issues that are happening in Appalachia, I’m glad to see this environmental blog did not forget.

  5. Marvin S. Robinson, II permalink
    May 14, 2013


    Marvin S. Robinson, II
    Quindaro Ruins / Underground Railroad- Exercise 2013

  6. Devorah permalink
    November 20, 2013

    Great video focused on rural issues.

  7. Brittany permalink
    November 30, 2013

    Dear Ms. Blanton,

    Thank you for sharing your story and your insights. It is so true that the individuals living in any given community are the true experts on that community, and that in order to successfully work on community issues the residents of a community must be involved and must have identified the issues. If the residents of a community are not consulted and are not involved in an effort to resolve community issues, who is to say that the effort will do anything to improve that community?

    You are so right that human connection is essential in community organizing, as well. Without a sincere connection, without establishing rapport, progress on issues cannot be made. Environmental issues have such a strong, long lasting impact on communities. Addressing them is such important work, as is working with the community to do so!


  8. Jimmy permalink
    March 12, 2014

    Great story about the issues being faced in rural america.

  9. Devorah permalink
    August 17, 2014

    Ms. Blanton you are right we are the best experts about what is happening in our communities….

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