By Michele Roberts
I grew up in Delaware, in an area that was commonly known as one of the largest chemical corridors in the world. Sure, that meant there were jobs and income for our residents, but it also came with a heavy cost to the personal health of some in my family and neighbors. Growing up, I saw members of my family die from all sorts of cancers: breast cancer, brain cancer, bladder cancer, leukemia, you name it. And cancer was only one of the many health problems that were ever present in our community. So when I made the connection between the chemicals that people in my community were being exposed to, and their tragic effects on our health, I decided that I was going to change my career to do something to address this grave problem.
What I have learned over the years from my work is that there is still so much that we don’t know about the many chemicals that we manufacture in this country, and something needs to be done about it. Did you know there are over 80,000 chemicals are currently listed or registered under the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA), and hundreds of new chemicals are introduced into the marketplace every year? Unfortunately, there is a lack of access to vital information about these chemicals, which is especially troubling for communities impacted by chemical exposures.
For example, in the wake of the West, Texas fertilizer plant explosion, community activists ask how many “shelter-in-places drills” must their children practice and how much stress from feeling unsafe should they be asked to endure. Communities located in an area commonly referred to as “cancer-alley” want to know why they have to experience cancer at such a disproportionately higher rate than the rest of the country. Communities in the Southwest want to know why the most precious resource to their livelihoods, water, is being threatened by uranium mining. In the Northeast, communities located near toxic chemical storage areas want to know why severe flooding leaves them vulnerable not only to catastrophic disasters like Hurricane Sandy, but also to the potential chemical runoff that may wash over their homes and neighborhoods.
Luckily, I have found there are many advocates from across the country that are as concerned as I am about this dearth of information and want to do something about it. Today, on October 29th the Environmental Justice Health Alliance for Chemical Policy Reform, consisting of delegations of community activists, youth, local elected officials, and environmental justice advocates from across the country will converge on Washington, DC to expand the dialogue towards adopting a comprehensive plan for the guidance, standards and regulations necessary for them to live safer lives with a sense of security. These reforms can better protect the health and well being of their communities and the workers inside the facilities. If this is an issue that you are concerned about and want more information, click here to find out what you can do and hear about proposed solutions for reform.
About the author: Since 1990, Ms. Roberts has provided technical assistance and advocacy support to communities regarding the impacts of toxins on human health and the environment. She received a master of art degree from the University of Delaware and a Bachelor of Science degree in biology from Morgan State University. Roberts has co-authored reports on environmental justice issues. Her advocacy work has been featured in television, print news, and magazines. Prior to being an advocate, Michele worked for 20 years as an environmental scientist for the government. She currently is co-director of the Environmental Justice and Health Alliance for Chemical Policy Reform.