Backyard Talk

A Vicious Cycle of Poison and Poverty

We in the wealthiest country in the world should feel ashamed. America takes our most vulnerable families – poor or working poor – and houses them next to polluting industries, poisons their children and now wants to take away their access to health care.
This vicious cycle of poison and poverty leads young men and women to end up sick, dead or in prisons.
Polluters Don’t Pay, We Do
Many low-income families only find housing near polluting facilities or on contaminated lands. There are many reasons for this: for many years, African Americans and Latinos were only allowed to live in certain sections of a city or town because of their race. Polluting facilities were often built near these vulnerable communities of color, creating a poisonous environment for innocent families.
As a result, children become sick, poisoned by lead and toxic chemicals in the air and soil. Too many of these children miss too many days from school, which leads them to fall behind or develop learning disabilities. This creates a situation in which they cannot succeed in school.
Polluting industries often find ways to avoid contributing to their local tax base, which funds public schools. As a result, these schools are unable to hire enough special education teachers to help vulnerable children succeed. Students become frustrated and drop out of school, ending up on the streets and getting in trouble.
Remember Freddie
Let’s remember Freddie Gray, who was killed in police custody in Baltimore in 2015. In court, the officers charged with his death justified their recklessness by claiming they could not prevent his fatal injuries because he became combative after arrest.
Gray’s aggressive behavior – if it even happened – could have been a result of toxic poisoning. In 2008, he and his two sisters were found to have damaging levels of lead in their blood, the result of living for years in a rented house where lead paint flaked off walls and windowsills in the rooms where they slept.
From Paint to Prison
There are hundreds of conclusive studies that confirm lead exposure is a cause of aggressive behavior. Freddie Gray needlessly lost his life at 25 years of age. Far too many young people and children like him are poisoned by environmental chemicals, then end up dead or in prison.
Prison isn’t free of chemicals either, adding an additional burden to these young victims. At least 589 federal and state prisons are located within three miles of a Superfund cleanup site, which are the most environmentally dangerous sites in the country. 134 of those prisons are within one mile of a Superfund site. Furthermore, it is common practice to build prisons directly on former industrial sites that conceal a myriad of health hazards.
Poverty keeps families from living in safe, unpolluted environments. America builds “affordable housing” often on top of poisoned soil. Today, the state of Indiana is trying to find housing for hundreds of families in East Calumet because the land is so contaminated with lead and other chemicals that no one can live there. Yet families have lived there for years, with young children playing on that contaminated soil.
We Share The Same Dreams
Today, our lawmakers want to deepen these violations of the most vulnerable among us by taking away what little health care they have. Children in poisoned communities can’t breathe because of contaminated air; now they want to take away their asthma medication. In some communities, there are clusters of childhood cancers with victims who need extensive medical attention. Regular access to clinics for infants and blood testing for lead are not a choice: parents must be able to secure that medical screening and care.
These parents have the same dreams of success for their children as those who are wealthy. But their children have little chance of achieving those dreams because they are poisoned, without their knowledge or consent, and failed by our educational system.
If the Trump administration has their way, they will let the poor and communities of color be poisoned with no ability to seek medical attention. Young people already poisoned will end up in prison or dead on the streets.
Today, all parents with dreams for their children must fight back to break this cycle of poison and poverty. If we join together we can win justice for all, not just the privileged.


Just Moms Plead For Relocation Away From Superfund Site

Dawn Chapman, Just Moms STL,  had listened with surprise and skepticism as the new head of the Environmental Protection Agency vowed to clean up West Lake, the nuclear waste dump that has filled her days and nights with worry.
Read full article.

Homepage News Archive

NAACP Florida Demanding Govenor Scott Deny Permit

NAACP Florida State Conference Joins the NAACP Jackson County Branch to demand the Scott Administration deny the pending deep injection well permit. “The NAACP Jackson County Branch joins hundreds of citizens, community groups and elected officials in opposing a pending Waste Management permit by the Florida Department of Environmental Protection.  Environmental injustice has a disproportionate impact on low income and rural communities in Florida and around the world.  The ultimate goal for this well is to dispose leachate (garbage juice) into the ground.  This technique will have a negative impact on the Florida Aquifer, thus resulting in irreversible damage to the communities’ water and health.  Our community has raised too many questions and we won’t sit on the sidelines as we see environmental injustices in North Florida” says Ronstance Pittman, President of NAACP Jackson County Branch.  

 “The NAACP Florida State Conference is outraged at the Scott Administration’s pending decision after hearing from State Senator Gainer, the Jackson County Commission and local residents.  This is yet another example of the egregious pattern of unsafe dumping of waste in low income communities and African American communities. In Jackson County, once again, another African-American community sits in peril, due to the too-often reckless practices of the waste industry,” says Adora Obi Nweze, President of NAACP Florida State Conference and member of the National Board of Directors.   
 Founded in 1909, the NAACP is the nation’s oldest and largest nonpartisan civil rights organization. Its members throughout the United States and the world are the premier advocates for civil rights in their communities.

Backyard Talk

Environmental Justice and Incarceration

Environmental Justice is a system of thought which asserts that all people have a right to equal environmental hazard protection and access to the decision-making process upon which their welfare hinges. Moreover, this paradigm recognizes that marginalized groups are, by far, the most affected by environmental harms. Environmental Justice and Incarceration my not seem to have much in common at first glance, however, over a thousand prisons across America are home to shocking toxic hazards.
Violations of federal environmental laws in prisons over the past five years.
Independent cartographer Paige Williams claims that at least 589 federal and state prisons are located within three miles of a Superfund cleanup site on the National Priorities List, with 134 of those prisons located within just one mile. Furthermore, it is common practice to build prisons on former industrial cites which are hosts to a myriad of health hazards.
Paul Wright, Executive Director of the Human Rights Defense Fund, explains that “one of the patterns that we see is where corporations have come in, they pillage the environment, be it by mining, forestry or whatever, and then when everything has been exhausted, when trees have been cut down, every last grain of ore has been ripped from the soil, and everything has been contaminated and poisoned in the process, the final solution is, okay now we’re going to build a prison here.”
SCI Fayette is one of many such prisons, located on the corner of an abandoned coal preparation plant which has become a dumpsite, containing 45 million tons of coal refuse. Coal ash exposure can lead to a host of conditions, including respiratory problems, hypertension, heart problems, brain and nervous system damage, liver damage, stomach and intestinal ulcers, and many forms of cancer, including skin, stomach, lung, urinary tract and kidney. A 2014 review found that 81 percent of the 75 prisoners who responded to a health survey claimed to suffer from respiratory, throat and sinus conditions; 68 percent experienced gastrointestinal problems; 52 percent reported adverse skin conditions; and 12 percent said they were diagnosed with a thyroid disorder. The report also noted 11 of the 17 prisoners who died at SCI Fayette between 2010 and 2013 had died of cancer.
Kenneth Hartman, who nearly died from contracting a fungal infection in a California State prison, asserts that “prisons found to be a serious health risk need to be closed. The changes made [fusion_builder_container hundred_percent=”yes” overflow=”visible”][fusion_builder_row][fusion_builder_column type=”1_1″ background_position=”left top” background_color=”” border_size=”” border_color=”” border_style=”solid” spacing=”yes” background_image=”” background_repeat=”no-repeat” padding=”” margin_top=”0px” margin_bottom=”0px” class=”” id=”” animation_type=”” animation_speed=”0.3″ animation_direction=”left” hide_on_mobile=”no” center_content=”no” min_height=”none”][to address valley fever] are about managing risk and trying to avoid lawsuits, not about fixing the problems of a massively dysfunctional prison system.” He alludes to a larger issue with the public mindset: “the problem is, the intersection of environmental justice and mass incarceration runs right into the teeth of prisoners not being considered worthy of justice. If we complain about dirty water, or poor ventilation systems, or inadequate medical care, there is a collective societal shrug: You should have thought about that before you committed crime.”
Mass incarceration traps thousands of Americans in areas of life-threatening toxic exposure. We cannot go on turning a blind eye to this sickening abuse of human rights.
Action Resources:
Join the Prison Ecology Project Campaign:

Backyard Talk

An Open Letter From Pittsburgh to the President on Paris Climate Pullout

Last week, President Trump pulled the United States out of the Paris Climate Agreement. Here’s what Pittsburgh had to say about it:
“Mr. President, when you took our country out of the global agreement to stop climate change, you said you  “represent the citizens of Pittsburgh, not Paris.” As a proud native of western Pennsylvania, I strongly disagree.
You do not represent Pittsburgh. Our people overwhelmingly rejected you at the ballot box, and we have seen your brand of charlatanism before.
For generations, glorified highwaymen like you have come to exploit the people and land of western Pennsylvania, and gorged themselves on their spoils. These salesmen claimed gold would rain down on us, if only we let them dump toxins in our rivers. We didn’t buy it then, and we don’t buy it now…
[fusion_builder_container hundred_percent=”yes” overflow=”visible”][fusion_builder_row][fusion_builder_column type=”1_1″ background_position=”left top” background_color=”” border_size=”” border_color=”” border_style=”solid” spacing=”yes” background_image=”” background_repeat=”no-repeat” padding=”” margin_top=”0px” margin_bottom=”0px” class=”” id=”” animation_type=”” animation_speed=”0.3″ animation_direction=”left” hide_on_mobile=”no” center_content=”no” min_height=”none”]

Photo credit: Bobak Ha’Eri, Wikimedia Commons

Rights for workers and protections for our land and water are victories that had to be fought for and won by the people of western Pennsylvania from highwaymen like you…

Mr. President, Pittsburgh is not your punch line.  Your speechwriters probably chose us from a Google search of “cities that start with P,” but we are indeed on the front lines of climate change, and we will bear the cost of your bad choices.
If we stay the course you have set and do nothing to halt climate change, both Pittsburgh and Washington, DC will be coastal cities as New York and Boston sink below the rising tide of warming oceans.
Mr. President, Pittsburgh is proudly part of the planet we share. The people of Pittsburgh breathe the same air as the people of Paris and Poland and Palau.  You represent profits for the few, not the People of Pittsburgh.”
Read the entire letter written by Daniel Doubet of Keystone Progress on[/fusion_builder_column][/fusion_builder_row][/fusion_builder_container]

Backyard Talk

Climate Scientists to EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt: Not so Fast

Climate scientists are fighting back. They had heard enough when EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt claimed in written Senate comments following his confirmation hearing as administrator of EPA that “over the past two decades satellite data indicates there has been a leveling off of warming.” They decided to respond, not with reactionary rhetoric, but with science, with facts.
A team of scientists led by researchers at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in Livermore, CA and from MIT in Cambridge, MA examined temperature data from three satellite data sets going back to 1979 and calculated temperature trends for each 20-year period, and then determined whether the observed trends were significantly larger than the 20-year trends arising from natural processes internal to the climate system. The researchers concluded that the scientific data “do not support the recent claim of a ‘leveling off of warming’ over the past two decades.” The analysis was published in the scientific journal Nature. The conclusion directly refutes the statement on climate change made by EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt.
The researchers led by Benjamin Santer, a world renown climate scientist, were clear that the reason they did the research was to refute the statement made by Pruitt. Santer told the Washington Post in an interview, “In my opinion, when incorrect science is elevated to the level of formal congressional testimony and makes its way into the official congressional record, climate scientists have some responsibility to test specific claims that were made, determine whether those claims are correct or not, and publish the results.”
The statement made by Pruitt has been echoed by other climate doubters. The main argument has been that temperature data collected at higher altitudes in the atmosphere show different trends than temperature data collected at the surface. Climate doubters argue that temperature data collected at higher altitudes (troposphere) show no global warming trend or that warming has slowed down in recent years in contrast to temperature trend data collected at the surface which show a clear warming trend.
While climate doubters will continue to cherry pick data to make their points, a growing number of scientists, whether in climate research or not, are standing up to the false statements and lies being perpetuated by this presidential administration. Scientists will continue to use hard data and a scientific approach to provide the best data and analysis available to draw conclusions.