Chemical Spill in West Virginia Offers Opportunity to Learn About and Improve Chemical Safety in America

By Maya Nye

On the early morning of January 9, a citizen complaining of a strong “black licorice” smell alerted officials to a chemical leak at the Freedom Industries site that seeped into West Virginia’s Elk River a mile and a half upstream of the state’s largest water intake.  It wasn’t until hours later that a ban was placed on water use for over 300,000 people across nine West Virginia counties.  Schools shut down. Hospitals cancelled non-essential surgeries.  Restaurants were forced to close leaving many people out of work.  The local economy nearly ground to a halt.

Untitled-1The chemical that leaked from the Freedom Industries site, crude 4-methylcyclohexane methanol, or MCHM, is used in the processing of coal-fired energy production.  It is one of 62,000 chemicals that were grandfathered in under the Toxic Substance Control Act (TSCA), many of which can pose serious consequences for human health.

This is not a new issue in West Virginia: chemical contamination has been a concern in this area for a long time.  This 25-mile stretch of West Virginia’s Untitled-2Kanawha River has been nicknamed “chemical valley” for its chemical manufacturing industry.  In fact, many incidents in this valley over the years have served as the focal point for reform to national chemical safety and security policy, including a 1985 aldicarb oxime leak that led to national Emergency Planning and Community Right-to-Know Laws and the implementation of the United States Chemical Safety Board.  In the wake of this latest spill, the communities around the Elk River in West Virginia also have an opportunity to spur action on chemical safety.

In response to the incident, the West Virginia State Legislature unanimously passed a bill requiring greater regulation of aboveground storage tanks in zones surrounding drinking water intakes, as well as requiring updated source water protection plans.  This is a good start towards improving the safety and security of drinking water supplies.

However, this incident could provide the basis for further action at the national level. That’s why in February, I travelled with my colleague Stephanie Tyree with the West Virginia Community Development Hub to Denver to join our Environmental Justice and Health Alliance for Chemical Policy Reform partners at the National Environmental Justice Advisory Council (NEJAC) Conference to seek national support for our home state of West Virginia.  As a result of our testimonies, the NEJAC responded to our request and agreed to advocate on our behalf for a listening session of the President’s Executive Order 13650 to be held in Charleston, West Virginia.

Untitled-3The public has a right to know what dangers exist in their communities in order to make informed decisions about their individual health and the health of their families. It is now mid-April, more than 90 days since the spill, and the crisis is still not over.  The odor is still faintly detected in some homes.  Schools have recently gone back to serving tap water to the dismay of many parents, and most people are not bathing in or drinking the water for fear of unknown health risks. We hope that the West Virginia incident will better inform chemical safety and security laws across the country and ensure that they protect families and workers in all communities.

Maya Nye is the President of People Concerned About Chemical Safety (PCACS), a 501c4 non-profit community organization active in community affairs for over 30 years dedicated to promoting international human rights pertaining to chemical safety through education and advocacy.  

Editor's Note: The views expressed here are intended to explain EPA policy. They do not change anyone's rights or obligations. You may share this post. However, please do not change the title or the content, or remove EPA’s identity as the author. If you do make substantive changes, please do not attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

EPA's official web site is www.epa.gov. Some links on this page may redirect users from the EPA website to specific content on a non-EPA, third-party site. In doing so, EPA is directing you only to the specific content referenced at the time of publication, not to any other content that may appear on the same webpage or elsewhere on the third-party site, or be added at a later date.

EPA is providing this link for informational purposes only. EPA cannot attest to the accuracy of non-EPA information provided by any third-party sites or any other linked site. EPA does not endorse any non-government websites, companies, internet applications or any policies or information expressed therein.

President Obama’s Proclamation on Environmental Justice

By Lisa Garcia

Earlier this month I was very excited to share President Barack Obama’s official Presidential Proclamation commemorating February 11, 2014, as the 20th Anniversary of Executive Order 12898 on Environmental Justice. While this may seem purely symbolic, the proclamation is much  more than a symbolic gesture.  It is a very visible statement from the White House firmly re-committing this Administration’s dedication to making sure that we, “live up to the promise that here in America, no matter who you are or where you come from, you can pursue your dreams in a safe and just environment.”  This commitment has been echoed throughout EPA and other agencies, and indeed the entire country during this anniversary month.

As a federal employee, I understand the important role the federal government plays in advancing environmental justice, but I also believe that the only path to a healthier and more resilient country is through the hard work and leadership of communities and individuals. This reaffirmation by the President  sets the stage for all of the U.S., states, and tribal governments to continue to work together, side-by-side, to ensure that we continue to deliver on the letter and spirit of the executive order signed 20 years ago this month.

20TH ANNIVERSARY OF EXECUTIVE ORDER 12898

ON ENVIRONMENTAL JUSTICE

– – – – – – –

BY THE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA

A PROCLAMATION

downloadTwo decades ago, President William J. Clinton directed the Federal Government to tackle a long-overlooked problem. Low-income neighborhoods, communities of color, and tribal areas disproportionately bore environmental burdens like contamination from industrial plants or landfills and indoor air pollution from poor housing conditions. These hazards worsen health disparities and reduce opportunity for residents — children who miss school due to complications of asthma, adults who struggle with medical bills. Executive Order 12898 affirmed every American’s right to breathe freely, drink clean water, and live on uncontaminated land. Today, as America marks 20 years of action, we renew our commitment to environmental justice for all.

Because we all deserve the chance to live, learn, and work in healthy communities, my Administration is fighting to restore environments in our country’s hardest-hit places. After over a decade of inaction, we reconvened an Environmental Justice Interagency Working Group and invited more than 100 environmental justice leaders to a White House forum. Alongside tribal governments, we are working to reduce pollution on their lands. And to build a healthier environment for every American, we established the first-ever national limits for mercury and other toxic emissions from power plants.

While the past two decades have seen great progress, much work remains. In the years to come, we will continue to work with States, tribes, and local leaders to identify, aid, and empower areas most strained by pollution. By effectively implementing environmental laws, we can improve quality of life and expand economic opportunity in overburdened communities. And recognizing these same communities may suffer disproportionately due to climate change, we must cut carbon emissions, develop more homegrown clean energy, and prepare for the impacts of a changing climate that we are already feeling across our country.

As we mark this day, we recall the activists who took on environmental challenges long before the Federal Government acknowledged their needs. We remember how Americans — young and old, on college campuses and in courtrooms, in our neighborhoods and through our places of worship — called on a Nation to pursue clean air, water, and land for all people. On this anniversary, let us move forward with the same unity, energy, and passion to live up to the promise that here in America, no matter who you are or where you come from, you can pursue your dreams in a safe and just environment.

NOW, THEREFORE, I, BARACK OBAMA, President of the United States of America, by virtue of the authority vested in me by the Constitution and the laws of the United States, do hereby proclaim February 11, 2014, as the 20th Anniversary of Executive Order 12898 on Environmental Justice. I call upon all Americans to observe this day with programs and activities that promote environmental justice and advance a healthy, sustainable future.

IN WITNESS WHEREOF, I have hereunto set my hand this tenth day of February, in the year of our Lord two thousand fourteen, and of the Independence of the United States of America the two hundred and thirty-eighth.

BARACK OBAMA

About the author: Lisa Garcia is the Senior Advisor on Environmental Justice to Administrator Gina McCarthy

Editor's Note: The views expressed here are intended to explain EPA policy. They do not change anyone's rights or obligations. You may share this post. However, please do not change the title or the content, or remove EPA’s identity as the author. If you do make substantive changes, please do not attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

EPA's official web site is www.epa.gov. Some links on this page may redirect users from the EPA website to specific content on a non-EPA, third-party site. In doing so, EPA is directing you only to the specific content referenced at the time of publication, not to any other content that may appear on the same webpage or elsewhere on the third-party site, or be added at a later date.

EPA is providing this link for informational purposes only. EPA cannot attest to the accuracy of non-EPA information provided by any third-party sites or any other linked site. EPA does not endorse any non-government websites, companies, internet applications or any policies or information expressed therein.

Sustainability for All

By Deeohn Ferris

Untitled-2In many of our communities, if sustainability is going to be sustainable, our nation’s green economy and the investments that flow from those policies must reflect the undeniable fact that all communities are not at the same starting point.  In far too many of our neighborhoods, people who are raising families and working hard to make ends meet face a combination of environmental, social and economic challenges that result in grave hardship.  If the race to sustainability is a race to the top, some of our communities can take the elevator.  Others only have stairs, and some of them have asthma too!

Regarding what’s going on locally and on-the-ground, equitable development is the central point from where the hard issues within sustainability must be dealt with up front.   The real on-ramp to sustainability means recognizing and addressing the inter-relationship of the challenges in our communities. Negative environmental impacts, disproportionate impacts, vacant properties, brownfields, health disparities, blight — these conditions are ubiquitous in neighborhoods where people of color and people with low incomes and less wealth live, work, learn, worship, and play.  Achieving equitable and sustainable development means thoroughly rebuilding our communities – not just the bricks and mortar – but really rebuilding the country’s social and economic fabric.

Untitled-2Thus, to make a fairer starting line for all in our country, we need to recognize opportunities to support the communities that have the greatest proportion of pollution and public health problems. For example, minimizing health disparities by deliberately providing fairer access for health care in low income and minority communities would save these residents billions of dollars in averted medical costs and gained productivity. Ameliorating such persistent inequities is critical for bringing about stability in communities—increasing fair access to housing choices, better schools, better jobs, sustained economic growth – and thus improving their overall ability to achieve community sustainability.

All across the country, dedicated folks are working to address these disparities.  But people of color and low-and-moderate income populations are still struggling for opportunity. Reversing this unfortunate trend necessitates a national transition to sustainability and the emerging green economy, which provides important new ways to tackle community revitalization as well as opportunities to do so in an equitable manner. Some examples of green economy priorities and tools that could address these disparities include:

  • Ensuring the right to a clean, safe environment for everyone.
  • Establishing inclusive decision making structures that provide resources and facilitate community engagement in planning and investments.
  • Making certain that decision-making is democratic, transparent and fair.
  • Distributing the economic and health benefits of energy conservation through green housing and retrofits.
  • Creating jobs that are safe, green and upwardly mobile.
  • Emphasizing workforce preparedness, development, and training.
  • Providing financial and other incentives that encourage entrepreneurship and local ownership of renewable energy and renewable energy technologies.
  • Guaranteeing that there are sufficient transportation options, including affordable public transit that gets people to jobs.
  • And ensuring the highest quality education and food security for all of our children.

Untitled-3Which neighborhoods are built and rebuilt and how they are built and rebuilt have far-reaching consequences in the race towards sustainability. Prioritizing historically disadvantaged and distressed communities to engage and benefit from sustainability outcomes is an investment in the future.  I believe everyone in our nation should have the same opportunity to flourish.  But achieving such a lofty goal requires community sustainability with conscious linkages to social and economic equity goals, green economy tools and environmental justice.

About the author: Deeohn Ferris is President of Sustainable Community Development Group, a not-for-profit national research and policy innovator dedicated to advancing sustainability and public health through equitable neighborhood development, smart growth and the green economy.  She is a former EPA enforcement lawyer, now a renowned provider of equitable development expertise and technical assistance that tackles sustainability in communities of color and low wealth neighborhoods.   Deeohn was on the ground floor of drafting the Environmental Justice Executive Order 12898 and the first Chair of NEJAC’s Enforcement Subcommittee.   

Editor's Note: The views expressed here are intended to explain EPA policy. They do not change anyone's rights or obligations. You may share this post. However, please do not change the title or the content, or remove EPA’s identity as the author. If you do make substantive changes, please do not attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

EPA's official web site is www.epa.gov. Some links on this page may redirect users from the EPA website to specific content on a non-EPA, third-party site. In doing so, EPA is directing you only to the specific content referenced at the time of publication, not to any other content that may appear on the same webpage or elsewhere on the third-party site, or be added at a later date.

EPA is providing this link for informational purposes only. EPA cannot attest to the accuracy of non-EPA information provided by any third-party sites or any other linked site. EPA does not endorse any non-government websites, companies, internet applications or any policies or information expressed therein.

It Doesn’t Take a Fireman to Spot a Fire: Fighting Pollution with Citizen Science

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Shameika Jackson. Velma White and Ronesha Johnson are active reporters
to the map from Shreveport, LA.

By Molly Brackin

We have a saying at the Louisiana Bucket Brigade (LABB); “it doesn’t take a fireman to spot a fire.” Likewise, you don’t need to be a scientist to know something is wrong when you spot a black smoking flare that lasts an hour or you smell foul chemicals in the air. Since 2000, the Bucket Brigade has worked with communities and thousands of residents throughout Louisiana that neighbor oil refineries and chemical plants. Our mission is to support our communities’ use of grassroots action to create informed, sustainable neighborhoods free from industrial pollution.  To accomplish this, the Bucket Brigade model is to equip communities most impacted by pollution with easy-to-use tools that monitor their environment, inform residents, and can be used to improve industry accountability.

Untitled-1In early 2010 LABB introduced the iWitness Pollution Map to help Louisiana residents track pollution and associated health effects in their communities. Today there are over 11,000 reports of possible petrochemical pollution on the map.  The iWitness Pollution Map is an open-source online map that allows anyone with a phone to document and share their experience with pollution via voicemail, text, email or by using the online form.  Visitors of the map are able to see reports in real-time, identify possible pollution hotspots by viewing the geographic location of the reports, and sign up to get alerts.The map helps to validate a community’s experience with petrochemical pollution, but more importantly the map monitors incidents of the industry’s potential pollution impacts on the local community.

In a system that allows industry to self-report their emissions and accidents, citizens are extremely important watchdogs. There were over 1,200 citizen reports of pollution from the 17 oil refineries and two associated chemical plants in Louisiana in 2013 alone. Using the iWitness Pollution Map, citizens have reported smells, flaring events, roaring sounds coming from the facilities, and health effects among other things:

 “It’s extremely stinky outside right now, very chemically smelling.  I don’t know exactly what type of smell it is, but is very chemical and it seems to be coming from the plant off Scenic Highway.  I guess it is around 6pm in the evening.  It’s raining and no feel of anything but just definitely very smelly, very unnatural.  It’s thick outside.”– January 13th, 2013, Baton Rouge, LA

 “…That plant over there, that flare is going just like a train.   It been doing it all night long.  And I can hear it all on my porch on Broadway now.”-July 28th, 2013, Shreveport, LA 

“When I had gotten off of work at 2:30am there was a weird smell in the air. At 10am the smell woke me up it was all outside & inside my home, which brought on a migraine & nausea! I don’t know what the chemical is or if it’s even safe for us to be in our home right now. We live on the Westbank in Algiers. If someone could give us some information on this that would be fantastic. The news & fire departments are saying it’s a mystery & others say it’s coming from the Chalmette refinery.”– April 3, 2013, Algiers (New Orleans), LA

A mural painted by community members in Baton Rouge reads: “Standard Heights: Clean Air is Our Right!”

A mural painted by residents in Baton Rouge reads: “Standard Heights: Clean Air is Our Right!”

From consistent citizen reporting to the iWitness Pollution Map, the results of the data we have gathered provides crucial statements of real life everyday experiences from residents, which counter the claims of some local industries that their chemical releases have resulted in “no offsite impact.”  LABB triangulates the reports to the map with other available information (i.e. air monitoring data, facility self reports) and shares the analysis with impacted communities, federal and state enforcement officials, first responders and the media.

Some communities in Louisiana are overburdened by industrial pollution on a daily basis, but if no one reports it, it’s as if nothing ever happened.  Thanks to these innovative tools, communities impacted by pollution have a visible, public platform to get their experiences documented and their voices heard!

Molly Brackin is an AmeriCorps VISTA with the Louisiana Bucket Brigade, where she serves as the Monitoring & Evaluation Associate. She holds a Master’s Degree in Urban and Regional Planning from the University of New Orleans, where she specialized in hazard mitigation and disaster planning.

Editor's Note: The views expressed here are intended to explain EPA policy. They do not change anyone's rights or obligations. You may share this post. However, please do not change the title or the content, or remove EPA’s identity as the author. If you do make substantive changes, please do not attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

EPA's official web site is www.epa.gov. Some links on this page may redirect users from the EPA website to specific content on a non-EPA, third-party site. In doing so, EPA is directing you only to the specific content referenced at the time of publication, not to any other content that may appear on the same webpage or elsewhere on the third-party site, or be added at a later date.

EPA is providing this link for informational purposes only. EPA cannot attest to the accuracy of non-EPA information provided by any third-party sites or any other linked site. EPA does not endorse any non-government websites, companies, internet applications or any policies or information expressed therein.

Equity: A Strong Model for Environmental Justice

 

[vimeo]http://vimeo.com/79543319[/vimeo]

By Makara Rumley

Our country’s immigration boom has been sustained by the dream of opportunity threaded with equity. When community residents have access to an equitable standard of housing, occupation, education, and healthy and safe environments, this idyllic dream becomes reality and creates a space where people can thrive. But what do we really mean when we talk about equity? How is equity distinct from equality?

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Equity can be used to describe the quality of fairness and inclusion that people receive.  Equity attempts to deliver justice without partiality, while equality seeks to deliver homogeneity across recipients. This idea can be portrayed with a simple anecdote. If I give two children, Sally and James an apple, it may appear that the distribution of both apples is equal. However, if James has not eaten in several days and Sally is on schedule to receive a small snack, James’s degree of satisfaction received from consuming his apple will be much less than Sally’s.  Not only does equity seek to level the playing field, it also ensures runners are prepared to race when they kneel at the starting blocks.

The objective of the Metro Atlanta Equity Atlas (MAEA) – the first equity mapping system of its kind in the Southeast – is simple. MAEA seeks to make clear the ways to unlock regional prosperity and growth. This only occurs when communities have equitable access to a range of highly interconnected resources; see www.atlantaequityatlas.com for more information.

As  a new regional online data tool, MAEA was designed to connect local stakeholders to timely, accurate data. By examining eight key areas of community well-being –demographics, economic development, education, environment, health, housing, public safety and transportation – the MAEA offers fascinating insight into the state of our region, particularly as it relates to issues of access and opportunity. The MAEA also provides local change makers with the information they need to provide vital facts and data to enhance their community efforts.

By browsing the site’s nearly 200 maps, it will become increasingly clear how “place matters.” In other words, where you live has consequences for where you end up in life. Georgia suffers from a range of environmental challenges. These challenges impact the quality of air, land, and water.  Equity can be used to filter these challenges through an environmental justice (EJ) lens.

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Map: Life Threatening Asthma Attack Rate in Atlanta

As an EJ Attorney for GreenLaw, I use this equity paradigm to serve the counties surrounding the city of Atlanta. It assists me in communicating with policy makers to help them understand that minorities are disproportionately exposed to pollution. Other EJ and equitable development stakeholders can use these multitudes of maps and data to make the case for fairer development, or providing new resources to communities based on the conditions of specific neighborhoods. A neighborhood saturated with pollutants creates barriers for residents from contributing 100% of their efforts to the economy by producing capital.  Visits to the doctor, missed days at work, and children’s absence from school are all examples of non-economic and economic costs. These costs all lead to a less productive society and the Equity Atlas can be a vital instrument for helping account for these costs in planning and public policy. 

Equity is a wonderful lens through which to view regulatory issues such as air pollution permits and industry siting decisions.  Let’s use the lens of equity to remove this heavy burden on some of our nation’s most vulnerable communities!

Biography:  MaKara Rumley serves as the Environmental Justice Attorney for GreenLaw, a non-profit environmental law firm. Using the law to reduce disproportionate exposure to environmental pollution has been maintained her enthusiasm since 1996.

 

 

Editor's Note: The views expressed here are intended to explain EPA policy. They do not change anyone's rights or obligations. You may share this post. However, please do not change the title or the content, or remove EPA’s identity as the author. If you do make substantive changes, please do not attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

EPA's official web site is www.epa.gov. Some links on this page may redirect users from the EPA website to specific content on a non-EPA, third-party site. In doing so, EPA is directing you only to the specific content referenced at the time of publication, not to any other content that may appear on the same webpage or elsewhere on the third-party site, or be added at a later date.

EPA is providing this link for informational purposes only. EPA cannot attest to the accuracy of non-EPA information provided by any third-party sites or any other linked site. EPA does not endorse any non-government websites, companies, internet applications or any policies or information expressed therein.

A Healthy Collaboration to Improve Children’s Health

Reposted from EPA Connect

By Gina McCarthy and Dr. Elena Rios

When we travel to cities and communities large and small, we see first-hand the direct link between a healthy environment and healthy lives, especially for our country’s children. But as we observe Hispanic Heritage Month, it’s worth remembering that too many of our children, especially in minority communities, live in unhealthy environments that lead to unhealthy lives.

Scientific studies show that minority children who live, learn, and play in low-income communities are at a greater risk of environmental health problems such as asthma, lead poisoning, pesticides exposure, among others.

In 2009, approximately 70 percent of Hispanic children lived where air quality standards were subpar, contributing to higher incidences of asthma and other respiratory diseases. In fact, Puerto Rican American children have among the highest levels of reported current asthma as compared to all other racial and ethnicity groups. In the United States, nearly 1 in 10 school-aged children live with asthma every day, those most affected live in lower-income communities of color.

These health disparities are more than just hospital visits and more medicine. They also mean more missed school days, and a higher incidence of obesity due to less exercise.

That’s why improving children’s health and fighting for environmental justice are critical to the work we do. And that’s why we’re proud that EPA and the National Hispanic Medical Association (NHMA) have collaborated with federal, state, and community partners to increase awareness on key environmental health issues, particularly among the most vulnerable minority populations.

Just last year, EPA and the NHMA actively participated in President Obama’s Task Force on Environmental Health Risks and Safety Risks to Children, which launched the Coordinated Federal Action Plan to reduce racial and ethnic asthma disparities. This plan now provides a framework for federal agencies with measurable goals and outcomes to enhance environmental health among our nation’s children in partnership with our healthcare professionals.

Another key way to fight health disparities is increasing access to quality health care. The Affordable Care Act will help by connecting people to high-quality, affordable health insurance through the new Health Insurance Marketplace, Medicaid expansion, and consumer protections like prohibiting discrimination on the basis of pre-existing conditions, such as diabetes or asthma that disproportionately affect minority communities.

But if we are serious about addressing large scale public health disparities, especially for our children—we must be serious about reducing carbon pollution and fighting climate change.

Climate change is about more than extreme weather.  It’s also about children’s health. It’s about clean, healthy air they breathe. The carbon pollution that fuels climate change brings about hotter weather—worsening levels of pollen and smog and leading to longer allergy seasons and increased heat-related deaths, especially for children.

The urgency to act on climate change couldn’t be clearer. That’s why we’re proud to follow President Obama’s leadership to bring communities together so we can take simple steps at home and in our neighborhoods to reduce the adverse impact of a changing climate and do right by our children.

As we travel the country, we see that a healthy environment means healthy children. And as we observe the end of Hispanic Heritage Month, it’s our promise to the American people to continue fighting for cleaner water, cleaner air, and stronger public health standards for all of our children and families—regardless of who they are, where they come from, or where they live.

About the authors: Gina McCarthy is the Administrator of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Dr. Elena Rios serves as President & CEO of the National Hispanic Medical Association, (NHMA), representing 45,000 Hispanic physicians in the United States. She also serves as President of NHMA’s National Hispanic Health Foundation affiliated with the Robert F. Wagner Graduate School of Public Service, New York University, to direct educational and research activities.

Editor's Note: The views expressed here are intended to explain EPA policy. They do not change anyone's rights or obligations. You may share this post. However, please do not change the title or the content, or remove EPA’s identity as the author. If you do make substantive changes, please do not attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

EPA's official web site is www.epa.gov. Some links on this page may redirect users from the EPA website to specific content on a non-EPA, third-party site. In doing so, EPA is directing you only to the specific content referenced at the time of publication, not to any other content that may appear on the same webpage or elsewhere on the third-party site, or be added at a later date.

EPA is providing this link for informational purposes only. EPA cannot attest to the accuracy of non-EPA information provided by any third-party sites or any other linked site. EPA does not endorse any non-government websites, companies, internet applications or any policies or information expressed therein.

Environmental Justice is Served

By Erin Heaney

Every community has the right to know what they are being exposed to. That’s why at the Clean Air Coalition (CAC), our mission is to develop grassroots leaders who organize their communities to run and win environmental justice and public health campaigns.  We’ve seen over the years that when leaders and residents have good data, they are better able to become strong advocates for their neighborhoods.

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One example of this is our recent work to protect residents of Tonawanda, New York from dangerous air pollution. After CAC-led citizen science showed high levels of benzene in Tonawanda, New York originating from a foundry coke plant operated by Tonawanda Coke, residents mobilized to hold the plant accountable. They knocked on their neighbors’ doors, met with decision makers, and earned dozens of press hits. The public pressure generated by CAC members resulted in historic enforcement action against the plant.

In December of 2009, the US Department of Justice, the US EPA, NYS DEC and US Coast Guard executed a federal search warrant at Tonawanda Coke. Less than a week later the company’s environmental control manager was arrested.  On March 28th, 2013 a jury found Tonawanda Coke and the environmental contral manager guilty of violating the Clean Air Act, the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act, and the environmental control manager was also found guilty of obstructing justice. The company faces criminal fines in excess of $200 million and the company’s control manager faces up to 75 years in jail.

Now, we are working to ensure that the community has a voice in providing the court with project proposals from the community that may be funded in their community through a court ordered penalty. The Clean Air Coalition used a participatory budgeting process to identify potential projects for the court’s consideration Check out this short film on how the process worked!

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The Tonawanda Coke case is an amazing example of how citizen science, access to environmental data, combined with community mobilization and strong support from the federal government can result in tangible results for communities on the margins.

But it all starts with community awareness. One tool we used to build this awareness among residents in the fight against Tonawanda Coke was the Toxics Release Inventory (TRI). The TRI online database was developed by EPA to give communities more information about what’s released by large industry in their backyards.  I originally wrote about our first TRI training for residents in the region last year. Now, we have learned a lot and we want to share the lessons we learned with other communities. We’ve turned them into a training guide  that people like you can use to educate and train your communities.

The guide is divided into two sections. The first hour explores the movement and history that advocated for TRI and the rules that govern the program. The second half gives folks hands-on practice using the database and exploring the releases in their neighborhood.

We hope other communities throughout the country will use our guide to share information with impacted residents, educate policy makers and continue to build a movement for the environment. Enjoy!

About the author: Erin Heaney is the Executive Director of the Clean Air Coalition of Western New York, a grassroots organization that develops community leadership to win campaigns that advance public health and environmental justice. She has trained hundreds of grassroots leaders and won campaigns that have resulted in significant emissions reductions from some of the region’s largest polluters.

[vimeo]http://vimeo.com/71938803[/vimeo]

Editor's Note: The views expressed here are intended to explain EPA policy. They do not change anyone's rights or obligations. You may share this post. However, please do not change the title or the content, or remove EPA’s identity as the author. If you do make substantive changes, please do not attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

EPA's official web site is www.epa.gov. Some links on this page may redirect users from the EPA website to specific content on a non-EPA, third-party site. In doing so, EPA is directing you only to the specific content referenced at the time of publication, not to any other content that may appear on the same webpage or elsewhere on the third-party site, or be added at a later date.

EPA is providing this link for informational purposes only. EPA cannot attest to the accuracy of non-EPA information provided by any third-party sites or any other linked site. EPA does not endorse any non-government websites, companies, internet applications or any policies or information expressed therein.

Planning for People: Smart Growth Strategies for Equitable Development

By Sara James

I’ve always taken note of the world around me, particularly how the built environment meets – or fails to meet – the needs of the people who actually live in that environment. Even before I decided to study urban planning, I questioned why environmental and public health issues and access to jobs, services, and other daily necessities were a challenge faced by some communities but not by others.

During my urban planning studies and my internship with EPA’s Office of Sustainable Communities (OSC), I’ve learned that traditional planning focuses on the built environment (e.g., buildings, roads). Too often, a project’s main goal is to minimize the developer’s financial bottom line, not to maximize the residents’ quality of life. Effective planning also requires understanding a community’s social, economic, and cultural diversity. The most successful planning processes today include comprehensive community engagement, advocacy for community members most in need and an eye toward equitable development. In its recent publication, Creating Equitable, Healthy, and Sustainable Communities, EPA identified smart growth strategies that planners, developers, and community leaders can use to build healthy, sustainable, and inclusive communities.

Community engagement event in Mariposa

The Denver Housing Authority facilitated over 120 public meetings and community engagement events and translated documents into three languages.

The Mariposa District in Denver used these strategies and was recognized last year for its accomplishments in equitable development by EPA’s National Awards for Smart Growth Achievement. (Watch the video.) Planning for redevelopment of the Mariposa District, a 17.5-acre public housing site, included more than 120 meetings, discussions, group consultations, workshops, and information sessions. Planners conducted door-to-door interviews, translated outreach materials into multiple languages, facilitated training sessions for public housing residents, and conducted a cultural audit to fully understand the DNA of the neighborhood as a whole.

Katrina Aguirre, a Mariposa resident, said she “learned how the concerns of residents could become part of the plan for the redevelopment as long as [they] voiced [their] thoughts.”  As the new buildings are constructed, Ms. Aguirre sees the effect of the residents’ involvement in the process. “Our goals and ideas have been included – which will make this a place where we want to continue to live.”

Successes like the Mariposa District are ripe with lessons that can be captured and shared with practitioners and stakeholders. That’s why OSC has been working closely with the Office of Environmental Justice to develop a new webpage, Smart Growth and Equitable Development. The resources on this page explain the challenges underserved communities face in relation to the built environment and land use decisions. They also point to approaches, like in Mariposa, that can be used to ensure that planning and development processes are unbiased, inclusive, and result in a better quality of life for everyone. Resources like these have helped me better understand and answer some of my initial questions about the built environment’s effect on the people it serves. I hope they will help you answer your smart growth, equitable development, and environmental justice questions as well!

Sara James is studying to obtain her master’s degree in sustainable urban planning at George Washington University and interning with EPA’s Office of Sustainable Communities. She assists EPA in researching and promoting innovative, sustainable, smart growth and equitable development strategies in communities across the country.

Editor's Note: The views expressed here are intended to explain EPA policy. They do not change anyone's rights or obligations. You may share this post. However, please do not change the title or the content, or remove EPA’s identity as the author. If you do make substantive changes, please do not attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

EPA's official web site is www.epa.gov. Some links on this page may redirect users from the EPA website to specific content on a non-EPA, third-party site. In doing so, EPA is directing you only to the specific content referenced at the time of publication, not to any other content that may appear on the same webpage or elsewhere on the third-party site, or be added at a later date.

EPA is providing this link for informational purposes only. EPA cannot attest to the accuracy of non-EPA information provided by any third-party sites or any other linked site. EPA does not endorse any non-government websites, companies, internet applications or any policies or information expressed therein.

Breathing Life into a Dead Space

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By Aissia Richardson

For over 31 years, the mission of African American United Fund (AAUF) has been to actively engage Pennsylvania’s African American community to collectively address social, environmental and economic injustices by pooling resources to enhance the quality of life of those most affected by these problems. I created the AAUF African Marketplace Health and Wellness program in 2007 to highlight health disparities in the African American community after my father suffered a stroke and subsequently was diagnosed with heart disease.

After my father had his stroke, he was afraid to leave home. He stopped working, stopped teaching, and stopped exercising. All activities he had previously enjoyed. As a work therapy project, I asked him to help coordinate this new program to educate our family and our community about preventable disease and to connect African American men to traditional health care providers. Sadly, my father lost his battle with heart disease in 2008 and died the day before our first healthy food cooking demonstration took place. As a tribute to him, I vowed to provide access to health care for the poor and in minority communities, to present information about how to maintain health and recognize warning signs of preventable diseases and to work with young men by talking with them early about maintaining their health.

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Students preparing fruit salad

In 2009 I began a community garden on a vacant lot where illegal dumping, prostitution and drug dealing were rampant. After seeing a news clip about gardening at the White House, the Urban Garden Initiative was born and it’s now a meeting space for our community. We’ve hosted film screenings, dance performances, plays, musical productions, farmers markets and an annual health fair. The urban garden is a demonstration model to teach our neighbors how to garden, to grow and distribute produce and to conduct farmers markets with items from small, family owned farms.  In addition, the site is used as a job skills training program for adjudicated minors in the Philadelphia Youth Advocate Program and the formerly convicted, in conjunction with X-Offenders for Community Empowerment, as well as other neighborhood re-entry facilities.

In 2010, I started Garden to Plate cooking classes with adjudicated minors which introduced youth to healthy eating options. My personal philosophy is that all men should know how to cook breakfast, lunch and dinner. It’s what I’ve taught my son and what I pass on to youth who regularly eat cheeseburger specials rather than fruits and vegetables. Over 70 young men have graduated from the program. It costs $23,000 to house a prisoner in state facilities. I estimate the gardening and cooking class has saved taxpayers approximately $1,610,000 and only costs $10,000 per year to maintain. The participants raise their grades, get off probation and have marketable skills once they graduate!

If you live in the Philadelphia area and want to start a community garden, the first place to go is the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society Garden Tenders program. With a little bit of work and effective programming you too can breathe life into a dead space!

About the author: Aissia Richardson, President, African American United Fund, has volunteered with various organizations that address policy issues over the years. Ms. Richardson is a public education and public transit advocate. She serves as the chair of Southeastern Pennsylvania Transit Authority’s 24 member Citizen Advisory Committee and the City of Philadelphia’s appointee to the Delaware Valley Regional Planning Commission Public Participation Taskforce. She is a Pennsylvania native and Philadelphia resident who enjoys connecting organizations to each other to create mutually beneficial partnerships. She has traveled extensively across the Delaware Valley learning about rural, urban and suburban living and working with concerned citizens in the region to ensure their voices are heard when public planning is proposed and implemented.

 

 

Editor's Note: The views expressed here are intended to explain EPA policy. They do not change anyone's rights or obligations. You may share this post. However, please do not change the title or the content, or remove EPA’s identity as the author. If you do make substantive changes, please do not attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

EPA's official web site is www.epa.gov. Some links on this page may redirect users from the EPA website to specific content on a non-EPA, third-party site. In doing so, EPA is directing you only to the specific content referenced at the time of publication, not to any other content that may appear on the same webpage or elsewhere on the third-party site, or be added at a later date.

EPA is providing this link for informational purposes only. EPA cannot attest to the accuracy of non-EPA information provided by any third-party sites or any other linked site. EPA does not endorse any non-government websites, companies, internet applications or any policies or information expressed therein.

The Power of Prevention Within Our Communities

By U.S. Surgeon General Regina Benjamin, MD, MBA

I am a long-time champion of the power of prevention.  As a family physician, I learned there were problems my prescription pad alone couldn’t solve – that if I wanted my patients to be healthier, I had to address issues like low literacy and access to healthy food.

Surgeon General’s Walk with students for Munger School in Detroit, MI

Surgeon General’s Walk with students for Munger School in Detroit, MI

Today, prevention is the foundation of my work as Surgeon General.  Health does not occur in a doctor’s office alone: health also occurs where we live, learn, work, play, and pray.  It is my privilege to chair the National Prevention Council.  Established by the Affordable Care Act and Executive Order 13544, the Council was designed to bring federal departments and agencies together to support health and prevention.

In 2011, we released the National Prevention Strategy, which includes four Strategic Directions that provide the foundation for our nation’s prevention efforts: healthy and safe community environments, empowered people, elimination of health disparities, and clinical and community preventive services.  Working together, we can achieve the Strategy’s vision of moving from a focus on sickness and disease to one based on wellness and prevention.

Our communities have great potential, but barriers can make reaching that potential challenging.  Limited resources, unhealthy housing, pollution, and other environmental justice issues can lead to poorer health.  In the United States, health disparities are closely linked with social, economic and environmental disadvantages.  Lack of prevention can take a devastating toll on individuals, families and communities.  That’s why we need to make sure prevention efforts get to the people and places that need them most.

As I’ve traveled the country talking with communities about the National Prevention Strategy, I’ve been impressed with how communities are coming together to overcome health, safety and environmental challenges through putting prevention to work.  We can only succeed in creating healthy communities when air and water are clean and safe; when housing is safe; and when neighborhoods are sustainable, especially in areas that face disproportionate health burdens.

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Habitat for Humanity Worksite in Washington, DC

Partnerships are critical to success.  Many federal efforts reflect the value of collaborative efforts, like the Partnership for Sustainable Communities and Green Ribbon Schools.  I have also seen prevention-focused partnerships at work on the local level, including Fighting D in the D and Maryland Health Enterprise Zones. These examples are only a small sample of the work going on around the country.

In order for communities to be healthy and environments clean and safe, we need to continue to uplift prevention as the greatest opportunity to improve the health of America’s families, now and for decades to come.

About the Author: Regina M. Benjamin, MD, MBA is the 18th United States Surgeon General.  As America’s Doctor, she provides the public with the best scientific information available on how to improve their health and the health of the nation.  Dr. Benjamin also oversees the operational command of 6,500 uniformed public health officers who serve in locations around the world to promote and protect the health of the American People.

Editor's Note: The views expressed here are intended to explain EPA policy. They do not change anyone's rights or obligations. You may share this post. However, please do not change the title or the content, or remove EPA’s identity as the author. If you do make substantive changes, please do not attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

EPA's official web site is www.epa.gov. Some links on this page may redirect users from the EPA website to specific content on a non-EPA, third-party site. In doing so, EPA is directing you only to the specific content referenced at the time of publication, not to any other content that may appear on the same webpage or elsewhere on the third-party site, or be added at a later date.

EPA is providing this link for informational purposes only. EPA cannot attest to the accuracy of non-EPA information provided by any third-party sites or any other linked site. EPA does not endorse any non-government websites, companies, internet applications or any policies or information expressed therein.