Youth Engagement

Historic Youth Delegation Attends CEC Council Session in Mexico

By Sophie Faaborg-Andersen, Justin McCartney, and Professor James Olsen. Additional work by Aaron Silberman and Sara Carioscia.

In early September, a small delegation from Georgetown University attended the 23rd Summit of the Commission for Environmental Cooperation’s (CEC) Council. The CEC is a trinational organization dedicated to addressing North American environmental concerns. The delegation to the CEC was organized by the Environmental Future(s) Initiative (EFI) and cosponsored by the Georgetown University Offices for the Vice President for Global Engagement and the Provost. Here are their experiences in Mexico in their own words:

Sophie Faaborg-Andersen

Attending the CEC Session was a tremendous experience that made me proud to be a member of the EFI. The Council Session addressed a number of topics, including climate change action, sustainable communities, and youth and the environment. With the Youth Engagement Project Proposal, the EFI sought to create a two-pronged approach for engaging youth in environmental action centered around their input into policymaking and the development of community youth outreach programs.

Attending the Session heightened my appreciation for the importance of integrating marginalized youth voices into policymaking processes. I was delighted to see the ministers of the U.S., Canada, and Mexico refer to their significant indigenous populations and the contributions they can make to the CEC through traditional ecological knowledge (TEK). Additionally, it was an honor to be able to collaborate with our youth counterparts from Mexico and Canada and deliver a presentation to the three Council ministers during the Townhall Session at the conclusion of the conference. The proposal was graciously received, and I am excited by the prospect of our ideas being taken into account in future discussions.

Justin McCartney

My experience at the CEC Council Session was defined by both the conference itself and the prospect for further developing youth engagement going forward. I was delighted when our delegation was given the opportunity to personally meet and speak with U.S. EPA’s Administrator, Gina McCarthy. During our private conversation with her, we discussed our proposal and ideas for how youth engagement can be systematized at the national and international level. I was excited by how clearly Administrator McCarthy understood the importance of integrating youth themselves into the processes for designing youth engagement.

Additionally, I was inspired by our impromptu collaboration with counterparts from Mexico and Canada on a proposal for permanent youth engagement. Huddled around a laptop in the hotel lobby, hashing out our demands: this for me was emblematic of what our time in Mexico was truly about.

Professor James Olsen

It’s hard to overstate how gratifying the experience of leading the delegation to the CEC Council Session was for me as an educator, observing our students’ excitement, dedication, and success as they offered substantive proposals to government officials. While I can’t scale and recreate this trip for each of my students, I’m impressed by the pedagogical principles that can directly inform course design generally, substantively improving our students’ learning and growth.

I am confident that this trip, as well as the principles that governed the trip (including the student-driven nature of the delegation to the development of external partnerships involving real stakes), functioned in a transformative way for these students. I’m just as confident that on a less grand scale, our classrooms can implement similar structural features and foster the positive transformation of our students.


All the authors and co-authors were members of Georgetown University’s delegation to the CEC conference this October in Merida, Mexico.


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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Local “Change Agent” a Catalyst for Transformation

by Blase Leven

Jack Crumbly meeting with representatives from potential funding organizations; organized by KSU TAB, on April 1, 2015.

Jack Crumbly meeting with representatives from potential funding organizations; organized by KSU TAB, on April 1, 2015.

Harriet Tubman, one of America’s greatest change agents, is credited with saying that “every great dream begins with a dreamer. Always remember, you have within you the strength, the patience, and the passion to reach for the stars to change the world.” I don’t doubt that Harriet’s words echo loudly for Jack Crumbly, who is working in four of the poorest counties in Arkansas to address high levels of school dropout rates, swelling prison populations, and poverty.

Jack is a retired school administrator and former Arkansas state senator who is leading an initiative to renovate a closed school contaminated with asbestos into a second-chance regional high school and vocational training center known as the STRIVE (Special Training in Remedial Instruction and Vocational Education) Institute of Technology. Last spring, Jack and some of the STRIVE board members attended a workshop I helped to arrange through the EPA Technical Assistance to Brownfields (TAB) Program. Since then, I’ve worked with my colleague Oral Saulters, who is the point of contact for TAB in Arkansas, to provide information about how to get the closed school eligible for federal cleanup funding. We also helped coordinate “funder’s meetings” to identify one-time startup funds.

Over the past several years, Jack and several other retired teachers and administrators have acted on their passion to improve the situation for at-risk youth in Eastern Arkansas, forming a state-approved educational non-profit organization, and creating partnerships with nine school districts that will supply the funds and bus transportation needed to operate the school. The Lee County School District deeded the former Anna Strong Elementary School, named for another Change Agent who labored to provide quality education to the African American citizens of Lee County and who was widely recognized for her efforts.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s TAB Program funds technical assistance to communities and other stakeholders on brownfields issues with the goal of increasing the community’s understanding and involvement in brownfield cleanup and revitalization, and helping to move brownfields sites forward toward cleanup and reuse. The TAB program at Kansas State University works every year with more than 100 communities in EPA Regions 5, 6, 7, and 8. We provide free advice to change agents like Jack on how to go about re-purposing abandoned or inactive properties with environmental issues. If we can’t help, we can usually find someone who can.

If successful, Jack’s project will give 125 graduating students each year and 31 permanent staff a chance to add more than $1 million to local economies in new consumer spending and tax revenues, and will save more than $3 million a year in state funds by diverting adjudicated juveniles away from the pipeline-to-prison system and instead towards productive employment. The monetary value to the greater community would be far surpassed by the value to successful graduates and their families, based on similar initiatives in other states.

I’m hoping that the help we give might be the nudge that makes all of Jack’s hard work pay off. Until then Jack will be making the rounds in the morning, picking kids up on the street and hauling them to the closest school; and in the afternoons he’ll be cleaning out the abandoned school with any helpers he can find. Amazing!

Are you a change agent in your community or want to be one? It’s a lot of work but there are resources out there to help. If you would like to learn more about how the TAB program can help in your community, come to two afternoon TAB events on September 3rd at the Brownfields 2015 Conference.

About the author: Blase Leven is the Technical Assistance to Brownfields (TAB) Program Coordinator at Kansas State University. At KSU, he has managed and served on technical assistance and outreach teams for a number of EPA-funded programs since 1997.

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Restoring a Watershed One Community at a Time

by Alicia N. Neal, MFA

In a city like New Orleans, community is everything. I remember when I would walk down the street, I’d speak to everyone I passed, and everyone would keep an eye out for one another. Everyone was our neighbor. Eight years ago, prior to Hurricane Katrina, walking around the Lower Ninth Ward meant passing several homes on every block. Now it means visiting one, maybe two, houses per block. As a result, a sense of community has disappeared from the area. With very few residents returning to the Lower Ninth Ward after Hurricane Katrina, many lots stand vacant, some filled with weeds and trash, others still are home only to dilapidated buildings.

The few residents who have returned also gaze out over the ghostly remains of a former cypress swamp. Bayou Bienvenue, once a flourishing freshwater cypress-tupelo tree wetland where community members would hunt and fish, is now an urban swamp decimated by salt water intrusion which killed the vegetation, and weakened protection from high winds and water surges. Loss of the cypress trees made the Lower Ninth Ward more vulnerable to flooding from hurricanes. Without the natural barrier protection provided by the Bayou, a daily downpour can instantly incapacitate neighborhoods with floods.

For Lower Ninth Ward residents, there is a movement afoot to, in a sense, take back the streets through improved stormwater management. With the help of an EPA Environmental Justice Small Grant, Groundwork New Orleans assessed community needs to address issues of stormwater management, ecosystem restoration, and quality of life. In the midst of the assessment, we recognized a common theme: lack of communal connection. Residents had simple requests like planting more flowers to attract butterflies back to the area. As a result, a simple rain garden was installed to mitigate flooding and grew into a beautiful green space for neighbors to gather and get to know one another.

Central to this process was engaging local residents in identifying solutions. For example, we incorporated Lower Ninth Ward residents’ needs and input to create a site that removes toxins from stormwater and provides an educational and beautiful space for residents to enjoy. A corner lot at Caffin Avenue and North Prieur Street was selected to create a rain garden and community beautification site. The site, located near the Industrial Canal levee breech that inundated the neighborhood during Hurricane Katrina, contains a shade structure, rain garden, native plants, fruit trees, benches and educational signage. After but a few months, the site has become a communal space where neighbors can feel welcomed, help alleviate street flooding, and improve watershed health along with neighborhood aesthetic.

Members of the Green Team, our job training program for high school aged youth, are a part of the process from start to finish. The students learn about research methods, public speaking, community engagement, science, construction, and water testing. The students are gaining valuable life skills while making improvements in their community, like using GIS mapping to plot drainage problem areas along Caffin Avenue and conducting water quality testing in Bayou Bienvenue. The results compiled from these activities were presented to neighborhood residents and organizations. At each workshop the Green Team leads a hands-on activity to share what they have learned and educate the community.

The restoration of Bayou Bienvenue is an important part of the rebuilding of the community because it can provide opportunities for fishing, canoeing, and other activities for local residents. Engaging the community in understanding how a neighborhood-level watershed and habitat design can reduce susceptibility to flooding is helping to usher in a sense of communal connection so that we heal our community while helping to heal the environment.

About the Author: Alicia Neal, MFA is the Executive Director of Groundwork New Orleans. As a long time resident of New Orleans, she welcomes the opportunity to make a positive change in the city. She is also a mother and a visual artist who is inspired most by nature.

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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Commitment to Environmental Justice Leads Fish and Wildlife Service to Study Anacostia River Fishing

Cross-Posted from Fish and Wildlife Service’s Open Spaces

By Kim Lambert

Group fishing at the Bladensburg Waterfront Park. Photo by Kim Lambert/USFWS

Group fishing at the Bladensburg Waterfront Park. Photo by Kim Lambert/USFWS

Approximately 17,000 people, many African American or Hispanic, eat fish they catch out of the Anacostia River each year, and often share their fish with hungry people, according to a study commissioned by the Anacostia Watershed Society. But the watershed contains toxic hotspots caused by pollution such as PCBs, PAHs, metals and other compounds for local facilities.

As part of its commitment to Environmental Justice, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service partnered with Anacostia Watershed Society, University of Maryland College Park and the Anacostia Community Museum to study the patterns of urban anglers (subsistence, recreational and cultural) and fish contaminants in the Anacostia River region.

Environmental Justice recognizes that low-income or disadvantaged populations of color are often unfairly burdened by environmental hazards and unhealthy land uses, and may have higher exposure and health risks. And the Service collaborates with its stakeholders and partners to minimize or eliminate these hazards.

On a hot Saturday morning in July, the partners sponsored a fishing day as part of the Community-Based Assessment of Exposure for Subsistence Fishers in the Anacostia River Region (CAESARR), a study about people who fish or consume fish from the Anacostia River Watershed. The event was a fun opportunity for participants to learn how to fish, get information about the river and health issues, and catch fish for the project. About 45 people attended and the fish were processed for scientific research. Estimates on the amount of PCBs, metals, contaminants and pesticides in the fish will be issued to urban anglers when the study is done.

In many ways the river is a well-kept secret for the recreational opportunities it offers, including biking, paddling, and surprising beauty and solitude. “It is in our hands to protect our planet and these beautiful species living in it,” according the Sonia Banyuls of Spain, as she walked along the river banks. Lisa Peterson brought seven Boy Scouts to the event because it was a “great fishing opportunity and so educational for the kids.”

Dr. Sacoby Wilson, an assistant professor at the University of Maryland, says, “The human health consequences of high fish consumption by vulnerable populations in the Anacostia River and a highly contaminant watershed are important public health issues.”

Dr. Wilson adds that there has been limited research on fish contaminants in the region, so it hasn’t been possible to establish exposure and risk assessments.

In addition to the work of the partnership, the Service is completing a report titled Analysis of Contaminant Concentrations in Fish Tissue Collected for the Waters of the District of Columbia. For this project, the Chesapeake Bay Field Office sent 38 samples of fish from Anacostia and Potomac rivers for study for contaminant concentrations. The District will use the results to update the current Public Health Advisory, which warns the public not to consume bottom feeding species and limit their consumption of other species. The report will be available in about two months according to Fred Pinkney, of the Chesapeake Bay Field Office.

Beyond enhancing fishing safety, understanding exposures for these populations can help with the Anacostia revitalization efforts.

The Anacostia River flows from Maryland into the District of Columbia, where it empties into the Potomac River about one mile from the U.S. Capitol. The 8.4- mile tidal river is part of a 176-square-mile watershed that is home to roughly 860,000 people as well as 43 species of fish and more than 200 species of birds. The Service’s Environmental Justice Program website can be found at

About the author: Kim Lambert has managed the Environmental Justice Program for the U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service since 2001. She serves on numerous environmental justice panels and boards. In 2013, Kim received a Proclamation from the Board of Directors of the National Environmental Justice Conference, Inc.

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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Seeing the Whole Picture

By Malavika Sahai


I was in my freshman year of college in the spring of 2013 when I took my introductory Environmental Policy and Planning class. Although my professor covered a wide range of topics that fit under the umbrella of U.S. environmental policy, one lesson really stood out for me: her overview of environmental justice considerations in policy enforcement. She told the powerful story of Bayview Hunters Point, a low-income community of color in southeast San Francisco that had been home to a former naval shipyard and other industries that had polluted the area, severely impacting the residents. Despite decades of cleanup and redevelopment efforts, their struggle continues. I became inspired and emotionally involved in wanting to help other communities like Bayview.

Untitled-1Growing up in the Washington, D.C. metropolitan area, I had witnessed instances of low-income and minority communities being plagued by pollution problems. I saw that for residents living in urban areas with aging infrastructure and minimal green space, the impacts seemed worse. I had considered myself a budding social justice advocate, but it was not until that day, that lesson, that I realized there was a vibrant, working movement to achieve justice in such communities.

After that lesson, I had an epiphany about what I wanted to do with my career. Suddenly, all my papers for my other environmental classes incorporated discussions about environmental justice. I spent my free time searching the internet to learn more about environmental justice and how and where people were impacted. I wanted to talk about these issues with anybody who would engage in the conversation. I didn’t want to stop learning more.

In my sophomore year, my interest in environmental justice led me to declare a Geography minor, so I could better understand the connection between social issues, place, and the environment. I want to learn more about the way that social geography impacts environmental decision-making in different places, to preserve local culture and adapt to be more equitable and sustainable. As I continue to learn, I keep challenging myself to learn more about the intersection of environmental justice and other related social issues, such as using ecofeminism as a framework toward global justice and planetary health.


Learning about environmental justice issues as a critical component in policymaking decisions has inspired me to pursue it professionally. I want to ensure that a clean environment and good public health are not mutually exclusive. Being an intern in EPA’s Office of Environmental Justice and collaborating with other environmental organizations as a part of my internship has broadened my understanding of the amount of work that’s already being done to address environmental justice issues across the nation, as well as what remains to be done. Learning about environmental justice has helped me realize that people have the power to make a change in the world and help one another. Learning about environmental justice in a classroom setting has helped me realize that environmental justice and environmental policy should be intertwined.

I am eternally grateful to my freshman environmental policy and planning professor for introducing environmental justice in the classroom, and my hope is that as time progresses, all environmental policy and planning programs in universities, and even high schools, teach their students about environmental policy and justice side by side.

About the Author: Malavika Sahai recently was a Summer intern at EPA’s Office of Environmental Justice. She is studying Environmental Policy and Planning and Geography at Virginia Tech, and plans to graduate in Spring 2016.

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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There’s Something Different about the Jordan River

By Seung-min Kang

Most people are fully aware that helping out our neighbors and the environment benefits everyone and deserves recognition.  However, the thought of doing a good turn or even getting recognized for it often is not enough to attract people’s interest or ignite their sense of stewardship. If it were, people would clean up their local river after work rather than watch TV.

To raise awareness and promote community engagement in the local watershed, the Jordan River Commission (JRC), in partnership with Salt Lake County and the Center for Documentary Expression and Art (CDEA) in Salt Lake City, Utah, developed an innovative idea for a new outreach program funded by EPA’s Urban Waters Small Grants Program. Their project offers an approach which is not only valuable in meeting water quality goals for the Jordan River Watershed, but unique in the way it captures the community’s attention and encourages their active participation.

Salt Lake Center for Science Education (SLCSE) student, Rachael Ainsworth takes photos while on a field trip to the Jordan River

Salt Lake Center for Science Education (SLCSE) student, Rachael Ainsworth takes photos while on a field trip to the Jordan River

The Jordan River flows west of the city, in an area populated by a number of low-income, ethnically-diverse neighborhoods in contrast with the City’s more affluent, less diverse east side. Within these neighborhoods, a quarter of the residents are school age, ranging from 5 to 19. However, the river had never been a safe and healthy place for these kids to play, nor could the community enjoy the riverfront because of continuing problems with mounting garbage and illegal dumping, as well as declining water quality.

JRC and CDEA decided to clean up this “diamond in the rough” to allow kids and their families the chance to enjoy up close and personal the beauty of a clean environment. The partnership took a unique path —  engaging neighborhood youth to positively impact water quality by increasing their awareness of the watershed and empowering them to make changes. Their 8-week long in-school Artists/Scholars-in-Residence program includes classes in environmental literature, photography, and writing. The program intentionally bucks the notion that all environmental learning programs are science-based.  Yet it introduces students to the connections between science and history, science and art, and ecology.

SLCSE students work on designing their projects for the JRC's website.

SLCSE students work on designing their projects for the website.

This is a great chance for students who are not interested in science to interact with the environment while learning new skills. In addition, student’s photographs, stories, poetry and other information are integrated into the partnerhip’s mobile website, which is accessible for many low-income residents whose only access to technology is through their cellphones.  Armed with just a smartphone, each student helps map the Jordan River trail and identify “interpretive stops” that provide information about the specific areas.  All of the spots on the trail have a numerical stop number where people can learn about each stop by typing its number into the website.

The information these students have gathered is now being made available to thousands of Salt Lake County residents to encourage them to explore the Jordan River. Moreover, people can alert officials about maintenance or water quality concerns by using the “Report an Issue” button on the website. Thus, by using popular technology, JRC and CDEA leave the door open for anyone to be involved in exploring, cleaning, and maintaining the river.

Everyone should have access to public rivers, and it is up to us to make sure that they are maintained for this generation and generations to come. This great program shows that people do care, and by empowering local students and using the right technology, JRC and CDEA are enabling affected residents to make a visible difference in their community and to take charge of protecting their watersheds.

The SLCSE class under a native Fremont Cottonwood tree

The SLCSE class under a native Fremont Cottonwood tree

About the author: Seung-min Kang is an intern in the Urban Waters Program in EPA’s Office of Water. She is from Seoul, Korea and attends Ewha Womans University, where she is studying English language and literature and plans to graduate in February 2015. Since she thought that she didn’t know anything about the environment, which is one of the critical social issues, she decided to work for EPA to challenge herself and learn. 

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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Environmental Job Training Reaches Rural Alaska


Map Illustrating Where the Diverse Geographic Areas that Alaska Indigenous Groups Live

By Lynn Zender

At the Zender Environmental Health and Research group, our vision of environmental justice is rooted in the philosophy that solutions must rely on community-based participatory efforts. We are a small non-profit organization based in Anchorage, Alaska and primarily serve what are arguably the most remote communities in the United States— the approximately 180 rural Alaska Native villages off the State’s road system. These Villages of 50 to 1,000 people can be reached only via small plane from one of the regional hubs.  The lack of trained technicians that can address and mitigate the severe solid waste conditions and risks presented at waste disposal sites is a major issue here, as are the very poor economies and lack of income to sustain environmental programs.

And that’s exactly why EPA’s Environmental Workforce Development and Job Training (EWDJT) grant program has been so helpful for us. This grant program helps low income and minority communities with unemployed or severely under-employed populations gain the skills needed to obtain employment in the environmental field.  This EPA grant program melded perfectly with the issues we are working on. Recently, our organization was very fortunate to receive funding from this EPA grant program to develop our Rural Alaska Community Job Training Program (RACEJT).


RACEJT students receiving instruction during a metal salvaging tour.

RACEJT is unique because we train residents for work in their home villages, which helps prevent rural “brain drain” and erosion of community integrity.  Gaining several certifications related to hazardous materials handling and job safety means that students can be hired by contractors that manage site cleanup, water hookup, landfill, road, facility renovation and other environmental projects. Without these skills, villages are forced to hire contractors with their own crews and the local Alaska Native economies gain virtually nothing from these projects.


RACEJT student geared for oil spill response training.

Over 88% of RACEJT graduates have been able to find permanent or part-time work.  In both cases, we’ve learned that any income can make the difference and help families retain their lifestyles and continue to live within their ancestral lands.  In these traditional hunting and fishing villages, a day of work can pay for gas to allow a hunter to provide moose, seal, caribou, or other game for his or her family and community, and for artists to search for ivory and other traditional materials used in making creations that they are able to sell and support their family.

One of the beauties of RACEJT is how many of our students gain self-esteem and confidence by succeeding in completing our rigorous program. Many graduates have found back their ways after stumbling on alcohol and other hardships that are all too common in rural villages.  Another lesson we’ve learned is the need to frame the program and students’ responsibilities in the context of Alaska Native cultures.  We invite Elders and other Alaskan Native mentors to evening dinners who offer great praise and encouragement to students working hard to return and help their community protect health and the subsistence way of life.

To those of us who manage the program, each student is a hero for taking on their challenging village environmental health problems, and we let them know it. Students like Brandon Tocktoo, David Olanna, Eric Alexie, and Brandon Willams have returned to their councils and educated their communities about the serious health risks posed by their open burning and uncontrolled dumps.  Chad and Garret Anelon, and Kenneth Charlie have gone back to their villages and instigated infrastructural improvements in their environmental programs. Kacey John has helped to clean up contaminated soil at her school and weatherized homes. Harvey Nusingaya has led the tank farm maintenance for his Tribal Corporation’s oil development program.  All of these students and many more are able to continue their customary and traditional practices and thus contribute to their community’s subsistence and wellness.

About: Lynn Zender is the Director of RACEJT, and Executive Director of Anchorage–based Zender Environmental Health and Research Group.

The EPA’s Environmental Workforce Development and Job Training program, was created in 1998, partly as a result of recommendations raised by the National Environmental Justice and Advisory Council’s (NEJAC) Waste and Facility Siting Subcommittee to provide training and workforce development opportunities for local, unemployed residents of predominantly low-income and minority communities disproportionately affected by brownfields and other polluting facilities. Click here to read more!

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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Toxic Soil Busters: Who You Gonna Call?


By Asa Needle

When I first joined Toxic Soil Busters I cared about environmental issues, but I saw them as enormous and complex problems that were too big for me to tackle. My perspective quickly changed when I learned about Worcester RootsToxic Soil Busters program, a youth-run cooperative that does remediation of soil contaminated with lead, sustainable urban landscaping, and environmental justice outreach. Before I started with the Toxic Soil Busters I considered environmental burdens, disparate health impacts, and a lack of opportunities for young people in our communities as separate issues. My experience in Toxic Soil Busters helped me understand how these problems are connected, and that any meaningful solution to these issues needs to address them holistically.

Perhaps the best way that I internalized these lessons was through our outreach to communities affected by lead paint. Before it was outlawed in 1978, cheaper lead paint was used in households and apartments. Even though most of this toxic paint has been painted over, the toxic metal still can find its way into the soil and remain there for hundreds of years. Young children playing in the mud of their backyards are especially vulnerable as their bodies are still growing. Lead can affect the heart, bones, intestines, and kidneys, as well as the brain, where it can manifest as Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, behavioral problems, and learning disabilities.

TSBsummer2011-300x223Rather than just try to clean up this dirty soil, Toxic Soil Busters takes a different approach. We empower youth by giving them the skills to combat lead in their own communities. For example, we are currently researching new ways to remediate lead-filled yards. Phytoremediation uses perennial plants such as geraniums, which soak up the lead and are then safely disposed. Other solutions include dilution through extensive composting, or reducing bioavailibility by using elements like phosphate. Young residents are at the forefront of our work in each case where we are working in neighborhoods to contain or remediate toxic lead soil.

Inner-city kids – particular in the Worcester neighborhoods of Main South and Piedmont – often don’t have access to many opportunities, and are on the front lines of environmental threats. We build those opportunities, where they can learn job skills as they confront social justice issues. Additionally, as part of a movement of co-operatives, we support a local economy that can provide green, sustainable jobs to youth.

Since Toxic Soil Busters started in 2006, we have remediated the yards of over forty homes, preventing future lead exposure and helping families sleep easy. We have seen far greater awareness of healthy homes issues in Worcester through our outreach, leading to more funding going towards these initiatives. Through our outreach, we have talked to hundreds of people, and thousands have heard our message. Some thirty youth have passed through Toxic Soil Busters, many going on to college and careers they didn’t even dream of when they first joined.

There are many problems that are keeping opportunities out of reach for the youth in our communities. Worcester Roots has taught me how to aggressively approach these problems, and design holistic solutions to address them. I learned how to think like an entrepreneur and an activist, and the work I do for the rest of my life will be defined by my experience here.

About the author: Asa Needle is Coordinator of Outreach and Education of the Worcester Roots Project, a non-profit dedicated to co-operative development, youth empowerment, and making neighborhoods safer for living, working, and playing. Worcester Roots Project runs cooperative-style social entrepreneurship youth programs with an environmental justice focus, including the Toxic Soil Busters. He furthers their mission of a just and sustainable world through collaborations with the Solidarity and Green Economy Alliance, Co-op Power, and Stone Soup Community Center.

(Winning video submitted by Toxic Soil busters for EPA’s Faces of the Grassroots Video Contest for Student Informational Video)


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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Smells Like Progress: Growing Up in Cancer Alley

By Dr. Beverly Wright

My journey towards understanding environmental justice began during my early years growing up in the area known as ‘cancer alley’ in Louisiana. After I learned about the disparties of pollution problems in poorer neighborhoods and neighborhoods of color, people who looked like me, I dedicated my life to overcoming these injustices. Now, as an educator, I understand my role and its importance in stimulating the minds of young people, propelling them into becoming involved in their own destiny. Exposure to, and involvement in advocacy work does just that. I am gratified to have a hand in nurturing the next generation of environmental justice advocates and professionals.

On the frontlines today, there is no greater challenge to our future, or should I say to our continued existence, than the issues surrounding climate change and global warming. Furthermore, people of color and the poor (specifically where I live, African-Americans) are most vulnerable to the impacts of climate change, and therefore their involvement in the solution is critical. After attending several international climate summits over the years, I found the presence of African-American youth and students to be quite limited, and in recent years I have resolved to change that dynamic.


This is what has driven me to organize a collaborative with the Historically Black College and University (HBCU) and to launch the 1st Annual HBCU Student Climate Change Conference held this year. Dillard University’s Deep South Center for Environmental Justice hosted the 1st Annual HBCU Climate Change Student Conference entitled Bridging the Gap Between Climate Change Theory and Experience. Over 100 students from 10 universities, as well as faculty, staff, and environmental leaders from across the country came together to discuss the devastating effects climate change is having on vulnerable communities.

Conference participants toured East Plaquemines Parish, a coastal Louisiana community that has been devastated by four hurricanes and the BP oil disaster since August of 2005. Rev. Tyronne Edwards, President of Zion Travelers Cooperative Center in Braithwaite, LA, discussed grassroots recovery efforts that his organization has been involved in since Hurricane Katrina.


One of the sessions brought together a diverse panel of presenters including nationally recognized environmental justice researchers, a hip-hop activist, community organizers, and emerging HBCU climate justice student leaders to address campus sustainability, the socio-economic impacts of climate change, community resilience and adaptation, public health, flood risk management, and mental health implications of disasters.

The three day conference also included an undergraduate and graduate student poster session, and climate change sessions for middle school students from the Dillard University Emerging Scholars – STEM Program.

I’m so proud of the conference and the transformation I saw in the young people who attended. The HBCU students, many of whom are from vulnerable communities, were challenged to become the next generation of leaders in environmental and climate justice advocacy. I wake up each day focused on affecting such transformation. It is my belief that democracy requires an educated populace, and that the survival of the Earth will require an environmentally conscious citizenry. It is our job as educators to make this a reality.

About the author: Dr. Beverly Wright is a professor of Sociology and founding director of the Deep South Center for Environmental Justice (DSCEJ), formerly at Xavier University, now at Dillard University in New Orleans, Louisiana. The DSCEJ is one of the few community/university partnerships that addresses environmental and health inequities in the Lower Mississippi River Industrial Corridor, known as Cancer Alley. For over fifteen years, she has been a leading scholar, advocate and activist in the environmental justice arena. 

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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Help Us Map Environmental Justice Conflicts in the United States


By Alejandro Colsa, Bernadette Grafton, Katy Hintzen, and Sara Orvis

As students at the University of Michigan’s School of Natural Resources and the Environment we consider ourselves lucky to be part of an institution that has played a major role in the historic evolution of the United States environmental justice movement. Coming from different backgrounds, the four of us have found environmental justice to be a unifying passion.


Click to find out more about the EJOLT Project

When we first encountered the Environmental Justice Organizations, Liability and Trade (EJOLT) project we recognized its potential to further global collaboration among EJ activists and scholars. The EJOLT project allows us to explore a wide array of environmental justice issues, giving us a richer understanding of what environmental justice is and how it’s been manifested in the United States. At the same time, EJOLT provides us with the opportunity to be part of an exciting new movement towards increased international collaboration in environmental justice.

EJOLT is an international project that aims to map environmental justice conflicts around the world. EJOLT has reported on and analyzed environmental conflicts in more than 60 countries, including India, Ecuador, Mexico, and South Africa. Cases like the Map of Environmental Injustices in Turkey have made headlines in mainstream media. However, environmental justice cases in the U.S. have not yet been integrated into this international effort.

With the help of our two academic advisors, Professor Rebecca Hardin and Professor Paul Mohai, we reached out to the EJOLT project coordinator Professor Joan Martinez Alier and offered to spearhead an effort to identify and analyze 40 influential U.S. environmental justice case studies to contribute to EJOLT.

This is where we need your help! Choosing 40 case studies to represent the environmental justice movement and its historical development in the United States is a monumental task. We decided to create a public survey that engages the wider U.S. environmental justice community and harnesses the expertise of scholars, activists, and citizens like you to help determine which case studies are included in this database.

We need your help identifying which conflicts should be included in this project. If you would like to participate, please fill out our 5-to-10 minute survey. When answering the following questions, please keep in mind that we are not asking you to rank the case studies. All of the case studies have been divided into 10 categories defined by EJOLT.  Each category also provides an option to write-in any case studies that are not in this survey, but you feel should be included.

In order to make the survey shorter and more manageable, we have created two survey options. If you were born on a day ending with an even number please use this survey link, and if you were born on a day ending with an odd number please use this survey link. The survey will only be open through August 23rd, so make sure and take soon. Thanks for your collaboration!

About the authors:

Alejandro Colsa is a Master’s student at the University of Michigan SNRE specializing in Environmental Justice. After spending some years learning how Environmental Justice is understood and studied in Europe, this Spanish graduate student has received a Fulbright scholarship to conduct research and study how the environmental justice movement was originated in the United States and how it can be framed within the broader and more international environmental justice movement, paying special attention to the role played by strong community activism.

Bernadette Grafton is a Master’s student at the University of Michigan SNRE specializing in Behavior, Education, and Communication. She has a strong interest in brownfield redevelopment and community engagement that has led her to an understanding of the tight relationship between brownfields and environmental justice issues, primarily because of the location of many brownfield sites.   

Katy Hintzen is a Master’s student at the University of Michigan SNRE specializing in Environmental Policy and Planning and Environmental Justice. Her interest in studying the intersections between public policy and community activism stem from her time as a Peace Corps volunteer working on environmental conservation issues in the Ecuadorian Amazon.        

Sara Orvis is a Master’s student at the University of Michigan SNRE specializing in Environmental Justice. She is interested in the unique problems associated with rural environmental justice especially surrounding Indian Nations culture and traditions and the government to government relationships affect the mitigation of environmental justice sources. 

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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