By: Kayleigh Coughlin, Communications Intern

In an interview on Wednesday, July 15, 2020 for CHEJ’s Living Room Leadership Series, Linda Robles, founder of the Tucson Environmental Justice Task Force, shared her experience battling TCE contamination in her neighborhood.

Since the 1940s, military installations in Tucson, AZ have been using and improperly disposing of TCE and other toxic chemicals. These chemicals leaked into the soil and groundwater of surrounding communities, poisoning residents who drank the tap water in their homes. In the 1980s, the EPA asked the city of Tucson to close all TCE-tainted wells in the area, but the city did not fully comply. As a result, a predominantly Mexican-American community, low-income on the Southside of Tucson has been severely affected.

The EPA declared Robles’ community and the surrounding area, including the Tucson International Airport, a Superfund site in 1994 due to its contaminated groundwater and soil. Despite declaring this Superfund site, the government failed to acknowledge the adverse health effects residents in the area were experiencing, such as high rates of cancer, birth defects, lupus and other diseases. Robles said, “We knew the TCE-tainted water was to blame”. Robles stated The Environmental Justice Task Force was created to organize around these health issues and prevent further pollution. In 2014, the group began a series of health assessments among its members through door-knocking, and the data on cancer clusters collected through these assessments increased awareness of the problem among Tucson’s elected officials.

CHEJ helped the Environmental Justice Task Force focus their organizing efforts. In 2018, Lois Gibbs came to town and provided the group with organizing training and strategies that helped Robles’ group grow. With CHEJ’s help, the group convinced the EPA and local officials to conduct a vapor intrusion investigation at six different schools between two districts in the area. While the community has this win to celebrate, Robles admits that organizing is still a challenge for her group due to the large undocumented population in the area. Many undocumented immigrants in the community care about the issue, but are nervous to get involved because they fear deportation, Robles stated. “Their silenced voices lead us all – local officials and the EPA, especially – to underestimate the threat we are facing”.

To learn more about the Tucson Environmental Justice Task Force and how you can help, visit https://www.facebook.com/ejtaskforce.

To listen to Linda Robles’ full interview with CHEJ, click here.