Backyard Talk

A student’s reflection on the EPA, Superfund and CHEJ

Maddelene Karlsson. As a Community Health student, I had the opportunity to go as an intern with Center for Health Environment and Justice to the EPA headquarters for a meeting regarding the Superfund program on March 5. This meeting, although very emotional, was also intellectually rewarding and confirming in many ways. It is one thing to read and learn about public health, community health and the topics under those umbrellas in class, but a whole other thing to see it and experience it in reality.
At the meeting, there were six EPA representatives all with different roles, CHEJ founder, staff and interns, community members and a few organizational environmental health advocacy individuals, each one with expertise on specific topics. The goal was to raise the concerns in the communities affected by superfund sites, general superfund issues and to put pressure on the EPA to act faster and more responsible. The community members shared their personal stories and experiences to give everyone an insight of what it is like to live near or on a superfund site, to see their own and their loved ones’ health spiraling downwards without the capacity to do anything about it. One community member expressed the she “doesn’t care about her own health concerns any longer, she’ll deal with it and all that matters is that her children and next generations at least get the chance to grow up healthy.” Another community member said that he “was the only one of his nine siblings still alive, and that after reaching the age of 60, which no one else of his entire family ever did, he is now worried about what health issues he might face” after growing up and living in a highly polluted town all his life. These stories were heartbreaking to me, and what might have been even more heartbreaking was the straight, expressionless faces of some of the EPA representatives. They were even caught off guard by another community member stating that no one of them would ever accept living in any of those conditions or be treated that way by top level leaders and officials, so why do they let other people go through that? Ironically, the EPA clearly states on their website that their core mission is the “protection of human health and the environment” and that they “are committed to providing clean air, water and land for all Americans.” To me it sounds like a mission that is too hard for them to live up to, or maybe it is only for a very few selected, as I observed faces expressed with frustration and distrust, and gloomy eyes filled with hopelessness.
In school, I have learned about the importance of the building blocks of public health for the establishment and management of healthy communities: assessment, policy development and assurance. It sounds like a pretty straight forward model, but in reality, it’s not. Especially when it comes to environmental health, it seems like it sometimes becomes a question of whether it is a human right or privilege to be part of healthy communities. Should it really be this way? In my opinion, no. I have come to the realization that we, the general population are sometimes naïve, we like to think that certain agencies and parts of the social system is there for us to keep us safe, represent us and to provide us with the tools needed for optimal health. Yesterday in that meeting, the EPA showed to me that this is not the way they work, and that the system is in fact very weak. The system is weak because it is full of loopholes and like serpents, they use these loopholes to bolt and dodge their responsibilities. Individuals at grassroots level on the other hand, have power. Lots of power. They are all one essential link each of an unbreakable chain, and what makes them stand out is their support and empowerment of one another and their commitment for battling the problems they face along the way together.

Homepage Superfund News

Community Leaders Travel to D.C. to Demand EPA Action at their Superfund Sites

Leaders from fence line communities met with EPA representatives Tuesday, March 5th at EPA Headquarters in Washington, D.C. to push for action at their Superfund sites.
“We need action in our communities where people are sick and dying because of exposures to chemicals in the environment,” was the resounding cry for help from community leaders.
The group met with Steven D. Cook, Deputy Assistance Administrator for the Office of Land and Emergency Management (OLEM), Peter C. Wright, Assistant Administrator of OLEM, James E. Woolford with the Office of Solid Waste and Emergency Response (OSWER) and other EPA staff. The meeting was organized by the Center for Health, Environment & Justice as part of a commitment from EPA to meet quarterly with communities at risk from Superfund sites.
Relocation of families living among some of the most toxic chemicals was an overarching issue. How can communities trigger relocation as the policy is unclear? Leaders called for a committee or task force to find ways to clarify this section of the law.
Medical monitoring of victims at Superfund sites was another key issue that the law requires but the agency ignores. Testing only children up to six years of age is inadequate. Children live within many of these communities their entire lives. Fifteen-year-old adolescents need testing as well to determine their body burden from living in a poisoned community.
Technical Assistance Grants were also discussed as an overarching issue to simplify the program so that average lay people can complete the process and application rather than hiring a grant writer when families can barely afford food and housing due to their medical bills and economic status.
Contacts Community Leaders attended meeting.
Lois Gibbs, People’s Action/Center for Health, Environment & Justice
Charles Powell, PANIC, Birmingham, Alabama – 35th Street Superfund Site
Jackie Young, Texas Health & Environment Alliance, Houston, Texas – San Jacinto Waste Pits, Superfund Site
Olinka Green, Highland Hills Community Action Committee, Dallas, Texas – Lane Plating Works, Inc, Superfund Site
Akeeshea Daniels, East Chicago, Indiana – USS Lead Superfund Site
Brandon Richardson, Minden, West Virginia – Shafer Chemical Superfund Site


Wheeler on climate: ‘I don’t see it as the existential threat’

Fox news interview, Payne asked the newly minted EPA chief: “Do you see [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”][climate change] as the existential threat that within 12 years, if we don’t do anything, that’s it, we’ve crossed the Rubicon, kiss Earth goodbye?”
Wheeler responded: “No. You know, as far as the largest environmental issue facing the planet today, I would have to say water. The fact that a million people still die a year from lack of potable drinking water is a crisis.” Read More. [/fusion_builder_column][/fusion_builder_row][/fusion_builder_container]