Wildfire season continues in California and health professionals have begun asking new questions on the lasting impact from exposure to wildfire smoke. Stanford University scientists have taken in hundreds of participants to examine circulatory, respiratory and immune systems and will retest participants in three months when the smoke has cleared. The testing is expected to continue through 2037. The testing will take place in the Bay Area, where air quality is typically better than other locations, to help isolate health effects related to smoke exposure compared to other environmental interferences. Read More.
Earlier this month, the Heinz Foundation honored 5 remarkable people who reflect the accomplishments and spirit the late U.S. Senator John Heinz. These awards recognize the extraordinary contributions of individuals in the areas of greatest importance to the late senator.
The Environmental Award went to Rue Mapp, founder and CEO of the nonprofit organization Outdoor Afro, who was recognized for inspiring African Americans to reconnect with nature and for championing diversity in conservation leadership.
Started as a blog in 2009, Outdoor Afro has grown into a national network with more than 35,000 participants and nearly 80 volunteer leaders in 30 states around the country. Outdoor Afro has become the nation’s leading, cutting edge network that celebrates and inspires African American connections and leadership in nature. As stated on their website, “We help people take better care of themselves, our communities, and our planet!” Outdoor Afro connects thousands of people to outdoor experiences and is changing the face of conservation.
Developing African American leaders in the fields of conservation and outdoor activity and management is a key component of Outdoor Afro’s programming. Leadership training summits are held annually, with attendees learning about conservation efforts and how to advocate for natural resources; the health benefits of nature; trip planning; leave-no-trace principles; proper clothing and gear; and community organizing approaches. Once trained, leaders volunteer to organize local “meet ups” in their home regions for local outdoor excursions, as well as larger destination trips to national parks and historical sites.
Mapp acknowledges that historical racism has undermined the connection black people have with nature through race-related crimes frequently executed in local woodlands and Jim Crow laws that barred African Americans from using public outdoor facilities such as beaches and pools.
Outdoor Afro’s mission is to overcome these narratives and use nature as a vehicle to help black communities address the violence in their past and present. As an example, the group has organized “healing hikes” that provide opportunities for people to find solace in nature.
As part of her work challenging traditional conservation organizations to be more inclusive, Rue Mapp consults with the outdoor industry, environmental nonprofits, and the national park system, as well as national and state administrations, and has been instrumental in helping shape national leaders’ understanding of how federal public land policies affect people of color.
Outdoor Afro has inspired Black people from all walks of life to step up and become leaders in the outdoors and in the community. Their volunteer leaders plan, scout and lead nearly a thousand events annually, connecting Black people all across the U.S. with positive and meaningful experiences in the outdoors. As described on their website, these activities not only help participants learn new skills and discover hidden gems in their cities, but they also carve out a unique space in which participants are able to embrace the joy of the outdoors.
For more about the Heinz awards see http://www.heinzawards.net/2019-recipients/
The Union for Concerned Scientists has released a report examining the Trump administrations neglect on science based policy. In partnership with the Texas Environmental Justice Advocacy Services (TEJAS) and Clean Power Lake County, the report focuses on the dangers communities of color and low income communities have been put in as a response to the administration’s attack on science based policies. Read More.
Read the full report here.
The Union for Concerned Scientists hosted a congressional meeting this morning (October 30, 2019) to discuss the report and the effect neglecting science in policy has on marginalized communities. A link to view the congressional meeting can be found here.
The National Bureau of Economic Research released a report this month investigating the recent increase in air pollution by region in the United States. After a decade of improving air quality with a decrease in the presence of particulate air matter by 25%, the United States has experienced an increase pollution between 2016 and 2018. The largest increases have stemmed out of the Midwest and West. The report speculates that pollution increases are the result of higher economic activity, lower environmental regulatory enforcement, and wildfires. Read More.
The CTS metal plating facility, located in Asheville, NC, shut down its operations over 32 years ago however its remaining chemicals are still impacting neighboring communities. Listed as a Superfund Site, the CTS plant has leaked toxic chemicals currently detected in surrounding groundwater and soil systems. Lee Ann Smith, cofounder of P.O.W.E.R., journeyed to Washington, D.C. last week to encourage further cleanup efforts from the EPA on top of the progress that has already been made. Further, Smith is supporting the cleanup of other sites by supporting a Polluter Pays Bill. Read More.
by Liz Goodiel, CHEJ Science & Tech Fellow
Capitol Hill is a busy epicenter of political movement and policy change. The halls of its buildings are flooded with congress men and women, staffers and schedulers hustling from one meeting to the next. Every few years, citizens across the country elect a representative that will fight for their constituency’s concerns. That man or woman will daily attend numerous meetings, conferences, debates, and state site visits all in an attempt to fight for their constituency’s concerns. To an outsider, Capitol Hill and all it beholds is something of a complex systematic mystery. Its infrastructure enables citizens to hold faith that their concerns are heard and being fought for.
Over the last few weeks, members of CHEJ have met with dozens of Congress staff members, both within the Senate and the House of Representatives, Democrats and Republicans alike. From meeting to meeting, we entered the decorated conference rooms, sat in the neatly organized plush leather chairs, and discussed the intentions of our visit in a punctual 30 minutes. Our meetings were always with an office staffer, given that most Congressmen have extremely busy schedules. For most appointments, the script was similar. We introduced our work, specifically with Superfund, discussed our connections with their constituency, presented the problem and introduced a potential policy solution. The experiences and responses we received, however, could not have been more different.
In most meetings, the staffer came prepared with a business card, a note pad, and a few questions to ask throughout the meeting. Some individuals were highly engaged and gave positive feedback about our efforts. They were encouraged that their Congressman would support or in the least look at any materials we provided. All could not concretely speak on behalf of their representative; however, some staffers gave hope and optimism in working on a solution to a problem impacting most of their voter base.
Most notable were the few meetings in which the staffer did not engage in conversation, ask any questions, or even open their notebooks. Their eyes glazed over in partial interest of our meeting and left with no intentions to follow up. Why were these particular meetings most noteworthy? We went into each meeting discussing a real problem that many of their constituency were facing. However, because of party alignment and committee membership, certain policy concerns were not even worth discussing with the representative. Although we did not experience many of these meetings, it was interesting to compare the staffers’ levels of involvement in our conversation over a substantial health issue.
At the same time, I have been given the opportunity to speak with a handful of community leaders from varying states across the country (including Alabama, North Carolina, Texas and West Virginia) that are tirelessly fighting for the health and safety of their communities within the Superfund program. These leaders have fought for years for the cleanup of their communities and for the health and safety of the neighbors. They have stood in the streets educating their community members on the problem that is plaguing their residents and have consistently reached out to their political leaders for support.
Having the opportunity to meet with a handful of the staff responsible for influencing our policy change was a very rewarding experience. It was exciting to experience a partial view of the mystery system that is our legislative body. However, it is still very hard to have a completely optimistic opinion on the outcome of our meetings. Although many staff members were open to understanding our work and sincerely interested in deliberating the matter with their Congressman, those meetings were clouded by the tough meetings from party members with no enthusiasm to experiment outside of party lines. After meeting with the community members from across the country, and hearing how policy change could absolve some of their most serious concerns, it is discouraging to see how political lines could run so deep that it prevents conversation and change.
Minden, WV is home to the Shaffer Equipment/Arbuckle Creek Area Superfund Site for nearly 30 years. This past Wednesday, October 23rd, community members met with agency officials from the EPA, the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection and the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry to discuss future plans for the remediation of the site. Plans include further soil and water sampling and excavation and cap repair. The site was placed on the National Priorities List (NPL) in May of 2019 that will help to provide more funds for the sampling and removal of contaminants in and around the river. Read More.
The United States Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), has awarded Akron, Ohio $4.6 million to assist in lead removal in homes. HUD is releasing grant money to communities combatting lead exposure as a part of the National Lead Poisoning Prevention Week. With the assistance of the grant, Akron will be able to control lead hazards in 250 homes and perform a “healthy homes” assessment for an additional 150 housing units. HUD has released additional grants to Summit County, the city of Cleveland, and Cuyahoga County. Read More.
October 20th to the 26th is established as National Lead Poisoning Prevention Week. This week is designed to bring annual attention to the dangers of lead exposure and how communities, agencies, and the government can work together to limit those exposures. The EPA began the week by releasing a progress report on the government’s plan to reduce childhood exposure to lead. The EPA, along with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), are working to bring awareness and organize preventive measures to reduce children vulnerability to lead. Read More.