Backyard Talk

Five Years After Water Crisis Flint Michigan’s Children Still Suffering

By: Sharon Franklin
New York Times Reporter, Erica L. Green recently reported on November 6, 2019 that Flint’s Children Suffer in Class After Years of Drinking the Lead-Poisoned WaterShe reported that Angy Keelin’s son Averey, was exposed to lead, and had to repeat kindergarten, and Ms. Keelin now fears a Michigan law that calls for students to repeat third grade if they are more than one grade level behind in reading. She stated “I don’t want him to be continuously held back.”   Ms. Keelin says that she wanted to stay in Flint Community Schools, where her blind son, was progressing in a program for visually impaired students, but then it ended abruptly and she was forced to follow the program 10 miles from her home to Genesee County.
Ms. Green reported, that now, five years after the Flint, Michigan Water Crisis the city’s lead crisis has migrated from its homes to its schools, where neurological and behavioral problems — real or feared — are threatening to overwhelm the education system.
Nearly, 30,000 of Flint Michigan school children have been exposed to a neurotoxin known to have detrimental effects on children’s developing brains and nervous systems.  Katherine Burrell, Neurodevelopmental Center of Excellence Associate Director said the percentage of the city’s students who qualify for special education services has nearly doubled, to 28 percent, from 15 percent the year the lead crisis began, and the city’s screening center has received more than 1,300 referrals since December 2018.
For other Flint parents, there is consolation, because they have the opportunity to send their children to Educare a 36,000-square-foot early childhood center, which opened in December 2017.  It is funded largely by private money in response to the Flint Water crisis.  It serves 220 students ages 0 to 5 years with lead exposures.  Educare is part of a national network that uses research into early childhood education, brain development and the achievement gap between rich and poor to shape its approach.
Today, Pediatrician, Dr. Mona Hanna-Attisha remains optimistic.  She is the doctor who used science to prove Flint kids were exposed to lead in 2015, when she went public with her research.  She says that because of the Flint Water crisis, the fallout has created a road map to assist other cities like Newark, New Jersey that are experiencing a similar crisis.  Dr. Hanna-Attisha further stated  “We’re leaning on the science of trauma and resilience,”… “because kids across this country are waking up to the same nightmare.”  She went on to say that “toxicity” existed here long before the water crisis.
Photo Credit: Brittany Greeson for The New York Times

Backyard Talk

CHEJ’s Green Flag Schools Program for Environmental Leadership


For years, the Center for Health, Environment & Justice has been mentoring a movement, empowering people and preventing harm   to  human health caused by exposure to environmental threats.

Included in this work is CHEJ’s Green Flag Schools Program for Environmental Leadership. Started in 2002, this program targets  students in schools and provides a framework for students to become environmental leaders and contribute to positive change in their  school community.

The Green Flag program gives students from kindergarten to twelfth grade the opportunity to learn environmental concepts, investigate environmental practices in their school and identify solutions to make their school safer and healthier. Working as a team, students begin by conducting an environmental audit using a comprehensive form provided by CHEJ to assess their school’s environmental practices. The team then selects an area they want to focus on that will make an impact at their school. The four target areas are non-toxic pest management, indoor air quality, least toxic cleaning products, and reuse, reduce, recycling. Students learn practical life skills such as problem solving, teamwork and public speaking. With each positive step, students are presented with an award culminating in the Green Flag Award for Environmental Leadership.
Earlier this year the Green Flag Team at the Saklan School in Moraga, CA satisfactorily completed Level 3 of the Green Flag School Program for Indoor Air and was awarded an Indoor Air Quality patch for their Green Flag. These middle school students were quite excited about achieving their award which is their second Green Flag award. They are planning to move on to acquire a third patch this fall. The Roots & Shoots Club at the Tom McCall Upper Elementary School in Forest Grove, OR also participated in the Green Flag Schools program this past year. Their Green Flag team satisfactorily completed Level One and was awarded a Green Flag this past spring. They plan to select one of the four project issue areas this fall so that they can acquire a patch to place on their flag.
The Green Flag start-up kit provides all the information you need to get started on earning environmental awards including facts sheets on school environmental issues and an environmental survey tool. More information can be found at
We hope you will consider adopting this program at your school.

Backyard Talk

The Movement’s Future: Teaching Our Kids about Environmental Justice

At the beginning of March representatives for CHEJ, the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, and Just Moms STL protested outside EPA Headquarters in DC to draw attention to the radioactive waste fire endangering children near the West Lake Landfill in Bridgeton, Missouri. One of the more memorable parts of the protest occurred when children at the rally took the megaphone and began leading chants. However, as powerful as that moment was, it can be difficult to know how to introduce children to the topics of environmental justice and environmental racism. How soon is too soon to teach them about these topics? How much information should be covered? Where should we begin?
The National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (part of the NIH) website hosts kid-friendly webpages that can help adults explain complex subjects like environmental justice (EJ). The webpage boils EJ down to a simple, but important definition: “Environmental Justice is a new term that simply means making sure that everyone has a fair chance of living the healthiest life possible.” It explains environmental risks and uses the concept of “fairness” to help kids identify environmental justice issues and contextualize examples in their day-to-day lives.
Online teaching resources include lesson plans to introduce EJ topics in the classroom. One accessible activity from had the facilitator hand out wrapped candy as well as two different colors of cards. After the students eat their candy, everyone with a red card gives their trash to someone with a blue card and that person has to hold onto the trash. This activity is meant to spark a conversation about fairness, privilege, and, depending on the group, environmental racism.
In addition to classroom activities, books and youtube videos can be great conversation starters. A Mighty Girl recommends numerous environmental books about environmental heroesinnovation, and revitalization. Youtube videos can present some intimidating facts, but introduce environmental justice well, and many videos like this one by Kid President show kids that they can make a difference.
Though teaching children about difficult topics like environmental justice and environmental racism can seem challenging, the resources available can make these important conversations easier. They can help us frame these topics in a way that isn’t hopeless, a way that empowers children to truly be the change they wish to see in the world. So let’s embrace the challenge and bring children into these conversations; otherwise we’ll never know what insight they may have. Let’s start cultivating the future leaders of our movement.

Backyard Talk

Childhood asthma rates are dropping, but for who?

By: Dylan Lenzen

The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recently released some good news with a report that shows that rates of asthma among U.S. children began to plateau after 2010 and actually declined in 2013. This is welcomed news considering that asthma rates doubled in the 80s and 90s and continued to increase from 2001 to 2010. Considering this, we should all be rejoicing these somewhat surprising new results, right? Not quite, as it turns out, for racial minorities and more generally, the poor, asthma continues to pose a challenge with little hope for amelioration.

For some minority demographics, the same study showed that rates of asthma have actually started to plateau, which lead the authors of the study to conclude that the black-white disparity in the prevalence of asthma has stopped increasing. While this sounds positive, the reality that black children experience a far greater occurrence of asthma than white children still exists. Black children remain nearly twice as likely to have asthma than white children and are also more likely to suffer complications from the disease due to inadequate medical care. While minorities and low-income children need better access to healthcare to treat the disease, it is not enough.

We need to recognize that this racial disparity in the occurrence of asthma among children is just one of many more symptoms that result from much greater problems of environmental and racial injustice. It is hard to imagine adequately treating this problem of childhood asthma without improving the toxic neighborhoods where many of our nations poor and minority children live and that remain a factor in the prevalence of the disease.

It is undeniable that minorities and low-income populations reside in neighborhoods of far lesser environmental and economic quality. A number of factors in these communities could potentially contribute to a greater prevalence of asthma. For example, low-income communities, especially those in populated metropolitan areas, likely face higher levels of air pollution from the overabundance of toxic industry or more indoor allergens due to deteriorating housing. Beyond these dangerous environmental factors, low-income communities experience higher levels to stress (an important social factor linked to asthma) due to exposure of violence, financial strain, family separation, chronic illness, death and family turmoil. In addition, poor health behaviors that result from overabundance of tobacco, alcohol, and fast food outlets and a lack of grocery stores can also lead to a greater prevalence of asthma susceptibility in minority and low-income communities. These factors must be addressed in order to eliminate the racial disparity seen with diseases like childhood asthma.

In order to adequately solve the health issues of our society for all Americans, the social structures that lead to environmental and racial justice must also be challenged.

Backyard Talk

Kids Sue for Action on Climate Change

By Dylan Lenzen
Just in the last few years, groups of U.S. teenagers have begun filing lawsuits against state and federal governments in an effort to force governments to adequately respond to the threats posed to climate change. Some groups have actually been somewhat successful in doing so. The most monumental of these cases involves 21 children and renowned climate scientist James Hanson who are suing the Obama Administration and other federal agencies in an attempt to force serious action in response to climate change.
This most recent case involving the Obama administration is the result of multiple lawsuits filed by youth in all 50 states since 2011. Some of these cases have actually seen some success. Most recently, in Washington state, a group of 8 teenagers won their case against the Department of Ecology. The King County Supreme Court judge who heard the case did not agree with the teenagers’ argument in entirety, and as a result, did not order the Department of Ecology to draft rules for cutting carbon emissions. With that said the judge did state, “[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”][the youths’] very survival depends upon the will of their elders to act now, decisively and unequivocally, to stem the tide of global warming…before doing so becomes first too costly and then too late.”
The organization that has inspired these recent legal efforts is Our Children’s Trust. Their work has culminated with a lawsuit with the Obama administration. The argument that is made by these young people accuses the federal government of infringing upon the rights of young people. In their own words, “in causing climate change, the federal government has violated the youngest generation’s constitutional rights to life, liberty, property, as well as failed to protect essential public trust resources.” So even though we are already feeling the impacts of climate change today, it is clear that future generations will be most affected by climate injustice.
This effort that seeks to create change through judicial channels as opposed to traditional ones and comes at a very important time. With the upcoming UN Climate Summit in Paris, it will be incredibly important that domestic policies show that the U.S. is adequately responding to threat that the science of climate change has shown. Utilizing the judicial system, the arm of government that appears least effected by the lobbying power of deep-pocketed fossil fuel interests, could prove to be an important step in ensuring domestic action is taken to combat climate change.
Winning this lawsuit against the federal government will not be without challenges. It could take years before the case even reaches the Supreme Court. Even if it does make it to the Supreme Court, it is difficult to say whether five justices will support a decision in support of Our Children’s Trust. In addition, the influence of fossil fuel interests will be difficult to avoid. Most recently, three trade groups, that represent the likes of Exxon Mobile, Koch Industries, and others, have requested to be allowed to join the Obama administration as co-defendants in the case.
Despite these challenges, we can only hope for future generation that our government will take the threat of climate change as a serious matter.[/fusion_builder_column][/fusion_builder_row][/fusion_builder_container]