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Health Impacts of Mountaintop Removal Mining

Earlier this week, CHEJ released a report on the Health Impacts of Mountaintop Removal (MTR) Mining. This report reviewed the most significant studies on the human health impacts of MTR mining. The health studies described in this report provide strong evidence that MTR mining has impacted the residents in the surrounding communities and that further research is needed to better understand the relationship between adverse health effects and MTR mining.

The studies reviewed in this report show that MTR areas have higher rates of cancer, cardiovascular disease-related mortality, overall mortality, and birth defects, and that the residents of these areas report lower health-related quality of life than residents of any other part of Appalachia.

As part of this report, we commissioned a group of medical and scientific experts called the National Commission on Health Impacts of Mountaintop Removal Mining and asked them to review this report. Commission members included Dr. Jerome Paulson, Professor of Pediatrics & Public Health, George Washington University; Dr. Steven B. Wing, Associate Professor of Epidemiology, School of Public Health at the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill; and Dr. Daniel Wartenberg, Professor of Environmental Epidemiology and Statistics, Environmental and Occupational Health Sciences Institute at the Robert Wood Johnson Medical School in Piscataway, New Jersey.

The Commission strongly supported the findings in the report and developed recommendations to improve our understanding of the interactions between MTR mining and human health. The main recommendation called for “an immediate moratorium on MTR mining until such time as health studies have been conducted that provide a clearer understanding of the associations between adverse health impacts, notably adverse reproductive outcomes, and MTR mining.  In addition, during the moratorium period, appropriate safeguards including remediation and engineering controls should be implemented to mitigate air and water pollution related to MTR mining activities.”

The actions called for by the Commission are in line with recent government initiatives to protect the health of Appalachian communities. In February 2013, Congressional Representatives re-introduced the Appalachian Community Health Emergency Act (ACHE Act, HR 526. If passed this bill would require the Department of Health and Human Services to lead a federal investigation of the reported links between MTR mining and human health impacts. Until such an investigation is conducted, the ACHE Act would require a moratorium on all new MTR permits, as well as on any expansion of existing permits. The ACHE Act would address the primary recommendation of the Commission which is to place an immediate moratorium on MTR mining until such time as health studies have been conducted that provide a clearer understanding of the associations between adverse health impacts and MTR mining

To read the report including the commission’s statement and recommendations, click here.

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Touring with Lois Gibbs

If you haven’t read the story “From homemaker to hell-raiser in Love Canal”, you should. And to make it easier here’s the link.
In the story I loved what Luella Kenny, another Love Canal activist had to say about Lois. “She was like a hurricane and we just kept going.” This reminded me of the Toxic Tour that Lois and I took around Ohio a couple of years ago. We traveled to all corners of the state, covering over 900 miles in just 4 days. I think of Lois as having the energy of the Energizer Bunny. With every community we visited it was like someone put new batteries in her and off she went. She is a tireless fighter for what is right.
The writer of “From homemaker to hell-raiser in Love Canal” described the Center for Health, Environment & Justice office as “being squired in a third-floor corner office in a nondescript building in Fairfax County, Va., a few miles from Washington, D.C. A tiny gray sign hangs outside the door, betraying no sense of the history inside.” While all true, those inside find no need of fancy offices in expensive buildings. It is more important to fight for what is right for the environment and the grassroots community groups we work with. The CHEJ extended family is a very close group of individuals. We celebrate together, we are sad together, we have disagreements with each other, and we hug each other. The CHEJ family includes all the community groups that we have ever worked with. Boy what a family reunion that would be if we ever all got together.
I won’t start naming names because I know I would leave someone out but, to all of you out there that are the Lois Gibbs of your community I say thank you for doing what you have done or are doing. If we haven’t heard from you for a while, give us a call to let us know how you are doing.

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Celebrating 20 Years of Environmental Justice at EPA

I had the good fortunate to attend a reception celebrating the 20th Anniversary of the establishment of the USEPA’s Office of Environmental Justice (OEJ) last week in Washington, D.C. This event celebrated the accomplishments of the Environmental Justice movement and recognized the work of many of the pioneers in the movement over the past 20 years. Lisa Garcia, Associate Assistant Administrator for EPA’s OEJ opened the evening’s events that included presentations by Charles Lee, former director of the OEJ and Vernice Miller-Travis, long time environmental justice advocate. Charles Lee looked back at the significance of his seminar report Toxic Waste and Race in the United States published in 1987. Key recommendations in this report included urging the EPA to establish an Office of Hazardous  Wastes and Racial and Ethnic Affairs which became the Office of Environmental Justice in 1992; urging the President to issue an Executive Order on Environmental Justice mandating federal agencies to consider the impact of current policies and regulations on racial and ethnic communities which Bill Clinton did in 1994; and further urging EPA to establish a National Advisory Council on Racial and Ethnic Concerns which became the National Environmental Justice Advisory Council in 1993. Vernice Miller-Travis spoke of other seminal reports and moments in the Environmental Justice Movement including the First National People of Color Environmental Leadership Summit and the formation of the Principles of Environmental Justice.

Environmental Justice Pioneer Awards were given to former EPA Administrator Lisa Perez Jackson and to Dr. Clarice Gaylord, the first director of the EPA Office of Environmental Justice. Also honored was Dr. Mildred McClain for her spirit and lifelong commitment to Environmental Justice. The most moving moment of the evening came when past heroes and sheroes (their word) of the Environmental Justice movement were recognized and honored. The individual images of sixteen leaders who had passed away in recent years were shown on a large screen in a moving video tribute. Virtually every one of these individuals were people I and others at CHEJ had known and worked with before. By the time the video tribute was over, I don’t think there was a dry eye in the room. It was very moving.

The newly appointed director of the Office of Environmental Justice, Matthew Tejada was also introduced that night. Matt was the former director of the  Air Alliance Houston. Music and refreshments were served to close out the evening as several hundred environmental justice activists and supporters shared memories and hopes for the futures. The theme for the evening seemed to be that much has been accomplished but much more still needs to be done, like all struggles for justice.

EPA’s Office of Environmental Justice has launched a 20th Anniversary Video Series that features government officials, non-profit leaders, academics and students who share inspiring and educational stories about the lessons they have learned while working on environmental justice. Click here to view the full list of blog posts and videos in this series.

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Backyard Talk

Counting Heads Is Not Enough To Address Environmental Justice



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Alonzo Spencer CHEJ's BOD Chair



Today in the Washington Post was a front page news story that talks about how the large environmental organizations are not diverse enough.

This is the same story written many times beginning in the late 1980’s. It sparked a national conversation and action that lead to the first Environmental Justice Summit in 1991 and in 1994 Bill Clinton signed an executive order Environmental Justice Act. The story talked about counting heads (non-white) on staff, in decision making positions and members of the Board. That story is not new and I believe is way too narrow of a focus.

The large environmental organizations have brought more diversity to their staff and their board, then was the case in 1990, but they are still a far cry from being diverse. However, I think just counting people of color within an organization is not the only or even the best measurement of their efforts to address the multitude of issues within the context of environmental justice.

One point that the Washington Post article raised, I think is at the heart of the issues. “Today, minority communities — black, Latino and Native American — along with low-income white neighborhoods still bear a disproportionate burden of the nation’s toxic pollution. They are in the shadows of petrochemical plants and coal-fired power plants, the nation’s greatest source of stationary pollution, according to the Congressional Research Service.” A diverse group of staff and board members will not change anything unless the large green organizations decide to makes a radical shift in their missions, goals and resource allocation.

It is a fact, detailed in a NCRP report that, environmental funders mainly support large, professionalized environmental organizations instead of the grassroots community-based groups that are most heavily impacted by environmental harms. Organizations with annual budgets greater than $5 million make up only 2% of all environmental groups, yet receive more than 50% of all environmental grants and donations. This makes it even more imperative that large organizations need to not only change the ethnic makeup of staff and board but also move significant resources to reflect their commitment to the field. The report makes the simple but profound argument that the current environmental funding strategy is not working and that, without targeting philanthropy at communities most impacted by environmental harms, the movement will continue to fail.

In movements throughout history, the core of leadership came from a nucleus of directly impacted or oppressed communities while also engaging a much broader range of justice-seeking supporters. In other words, successful movements for social change — anti-slavery, women’s suffrage, labor rights, and civil rights — have always been inspired, energized, and led by those most directly affected. Yet these are the very groups within the environmental movement that are starved for funds.

Robert Garcia said in the Washington Post article, “The values of the mainstream environmental movement don’t focus on the needs of people. They focus on clean air, water and climate.” I agree with Robert Garcia, who founded and provides counsel for the City Project in Los Angeles and would add why are they not investing in communities on the front lines?

Alonzo Spencer, CHEJ’s Board Chairman, lives with a hazardous waste incinerator that has been out of compliance more often than in compliance. His community was designated an Environmental Justice Community by the US EPA in the 1990’s. Other than CHEJ, his neighborhood has no skilled national group helping them. Where are the lobbyists that are needed to change the laws, not at the national level but at the state level?

In Ohio if you are out of compliance (not obeying the law) but you have a plan or schedule to come into compliance, you are considered in compliance. I know this because that is what the appeals court ruled when CHEJ took the case as far up as we could. So, in reality the facility never really needs to be in compliance they just need to keep putting together plans that say they will someday comply with the law. Yes, it is a fence line problem but it is also a climate issue given they release more than permitted of chemicals that impact climate and discharges contaminate the Ohio River and other sources of water.

Alonzo’s community has the highest rate of cancer in the state. Their elementary school was closed, which was a necessary action because the top of the stack of the incinerator was almost level to the school windows due to it being built below the bluff where the school stood. The local taxpayers had to pay to move the children to another school. A low-wealth county, spending money they don’t have to keep their children safe.

Or where are the resources to assist communities in Corpus Christi, TX? Along refinery row, all the industries say they are in compliance, and maybe they are, but when you have miles of refineries collectively the air is not breathable. Who lives there? Suzie Canales, another member of CHEJ’s board who tells the story about how the city charter designated section of the city specifically for African Americans and Latino’s to live. If you were Latino or African American family you could not purchase property outside of the cities designated area for your ethnic group. Therefore, homes were purchased near the refineries because they were not permitted to buy other properties. Now the properties are not only unsalable but a health risk to families who live there.

The conversation about environmental organizations and environmental justice really needs to be about resources and assistance to the front line communities rather than head counting. Someday, maybe all of the Green Groups would be diverse, but that alone will not translate into playing an active role in bringing real aide and justice to front line communities. There needs to be diversity, resources and a core commitment to solutions and necessary actions that come from the people who are impacted.

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A day in the life of CHEJ staff.

A Cold Wednesday in March Demonstrated the reach CHEJ has and how much is really accomplished.

A Cold, Windy and Snowy Day Did Not Stop Us.

Wednesday March 6th a storm was brewing across the Midwest and Northeast.  Despite the snow and travel warnings CHEJ’s leaders moved forward.  Here is what happened on that cold, windy and snowy Wednesday in March.

A day in the life of CHEJ

As I juggle calls from activists across the state of Ohio working on fracking, deep well injection, air pollution, cancer clusters and more I’m freezing outside at and anti injection well rally at the state capital.  Cold and tired watching e-mails cross my phone from CHEJ’s home office I realize how much CHEJ does in a day to move the country toward a safe, healthy and justice place for American families.

While I’m in Columbus, Ohio participating with my neighbors and friends to speak out about fracking waste disposal.  Even with the nasty weather, over 125 people gather at the state house to ask legislators to  stop accepting out-of-state fracking wastes. Ohio now has over 200 injection wells and last year accepted  581,559,594 gallons (that’s right over 581 million gallons) of fracking wastes.

My co-worker is working on greening the market place organized a shareholder action in Arizona around Disney’s use of poison plastic in toys and other children’s products.  This morning a shareholder action was held in Phoenix, Arizona.  Leaders handed out informational packets to Disney shareholders to ask them to stop using PVC the poison plastic in their toys.  Many shareholders had no idea that toys were being made in a way that could harm young children.

Commemorating 35th Anniversary of Love Canal

In New York City

That same evening a celebration and fundraiser was held in New York City with our Executive Director Lois Gibbs.  This was our first event  of several, commemorations of Love Canal events 35 years ago were underway.  Chevy and Jayni Chase joined us as our special guest along with 67 others who braved the weather to celebrate with us that evening.  CHEJ surpassed our fundraising goal at the event and launched the Leadership Training Academy.  Great time was had by all with great food, drinks, conversations with colleagues and a preview of the new documentary A Fierce Green Fire, The Battle for A Living Planet.







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Backyard Talk

Adverse Health – Real Cause – Poof Deflected

Two studies, from completely different states were recently released concluding the same thing. Both said there was no cause for alarm. Their findings . . . every elevated health abnormality was more likely due to something other than the chemicals in the environment. Poof the words on the paper report deflected the problems. Yet that is not what the studies honestly found.

Enough already . . . real people, with real families need honest answers. However, when there is a question or a real statistical finding of an abnormality the health authorities, as to not upset the corporate polluters or their friends in government, assumption that it’s more likely be a meteor, like recently seen in Russia, than due to chemical exposures in the air or soil. O.K. maybe not the meteor but the answers are just as foolish. The cause for high disease is almost never related to the obvious, 500 pound toxic elephant in the room, nor do the recommendations falls on the side of precaution and cleaning up the environment.

In North Birmingham a recent study around soil and air contamination suggested that the levels of chemicals would not be harmful to health unless you had pica children. Pica children are young and frequently because of age put hands and other things into their mouths. O.K. but the soils samples came from an elementary school grounds, just the place you would find pica children. Just wash their hands and teach them not to place their fingers in the mouth. Poof deflected. It’s the children’s fault and parents for not training the children well enough to keep their hands away from their mouths.

The second study came from New York. The NY State Department of Health undertook a study in Tonawanda where air contamination from multiple industries have been an on-going problem. They found high rates of cancer and birth defects. The study found cases of bladder cancer in the area were 24 percent higher for men and 81 percent higher for woman compared to the rest of New York State, excluding New York City. And women living in the neighborhood had 93 percent more leukemia cases than the rest of the state. Lastly, they found 30 percent more birth defects than the rest of New York State.

The analyses of birth outcomes in the study area compared to birth outcomes in NYS showed some elevations that were relatively smaller than the cancer elevations. Preterm births were elevated in the overall study area. Total heart defects as a group were also elevated, but major heart defects were not elevated.

Then poof the results went away! How? Doctors are better at reporting in the region then in other regions of the state. The report said, “the health investigators compared the birth outcomes in the study area to birth outcomes in Erie and Niagara Counties, the elevations declined substantially. This is consistent with other evidence suggesting this area has more complete reporting than elsewhere in the state.” Poof deflected.

Cancer results the health department said, “factors include smoking, family history, and occupational exposures, as well as others. In the general population, smoking is the most important risk factor for both lung and bladder cancer. We do not know the individual medical and exposure histories for the people included in this study.” Deflected again. So because the victims themselves could have cause the problem and we don’t know if they did the default is, these are sad people who are likely making themselves sick.

If only families living in contaminated areas could create that same magic and poof make the toxic, cancer causing and birth disrupting chemicals go away. Or pretend that contamination in school property will somehow not hurt young children even though the entire property, building and play area is intended for small children.

I walk with these parents, sit in their living rooms and listen as they try and struggle with the pain of their sick loved one and the disappointment they have for those who are supposed to protect and defend American families from criminals and their poisons.

It is hard to respond when parents, women ask over and over again, “why?” It’s not right when can’t smoke in buildings and restaurants (a very good law) but industries can just violate the law, poison people and government covers up the problems just as the tobacco industry did for decades. I never thought I’d see the day when the American people through our tax dollars hired scientists that mirror those that our elected leaders despised-tobacco scientists.

The message to all those fighting for justice and hoping that science may provide some evidence, it won’t – not because it can’t but because our scientists lack the back bone. Our struggles, although should be won on science alone, are clearly political fights and these two studies are just more proof.

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35 Years of Progress Since Love Canal

This year marks a very significant date – the 35th anniversary of the Love Canal crisis. It is hard to believe it has been that long and in recognizing this fact of life, I realize that entire generations have been born since who may know little or nothing about Love Canal and how the environmental health and justice movement began.

History is important and we need to find ways to tell the story so that we don’t repeat our mistakes and we can reap the benefits of lessons learned through oral histories. One key lesson from Love Canal is that a blue collar community with next to no resources was able to win its fight for justice and open the eyes of the nation and the world to the serious problems of environmental chemicals and their effects on public health.

Thanks to Mark Kitchell, an Oscar nominated and well known filmmaker (Berkeley in the Sixties), there’s now a compelling and thought provoking film that can be used as a tool in educating younger generations about Love Canal and the history of the environmental movement and engaging them and re-engaging the rest of us in the fight for a healthy planet. What is exciting about A Fierce Green Fire is that this film, which includes a prominent segment on Love Canal, demonstrates in real footage that change happens when people get involved.

“The main difference between my film and a lot of other environmental films is that instead of it being focused on the issues, ours is focused on the movement and activism,” said Mark Kitchell in an interview. “I feel that telling stories of activists, taking up the battle and fighting, is the best way to explicate the issues. And that was my main handle on the environmental subject, doing the movement story,” adds Kitchell. The film, narrated by such notables as Robert Redford, Meryl Streep and Ashley Judd among others, received great reviews at Sundance.

As CHEJ moves forward this coming year, we are partnering with groups across the country who would like to show the film in a theater setting, at small group gatherings or house events and have a conversation about how change happens and what they might do differently in their efforts to win on environmental and environmental health and justice issues. Partnering with groups, we hope to also bring media attention to their local issues and raise funds for their group and CHEJ. It’s a plan that’s hard to pass up.

If your group is interested in hosting a local viewing, please contact CHEJ. Together we can inspire people to take action to protect health and our planet.

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Today’s Rachel Carson

Today’s Rachel Carson is a woman I know, admire and love, Dr. Beverly Paigen. I was reminded of how important Dr. Paigen is when asked to present her with an award from the Maine Environmental Health Strategies Center.

When I began to think about what I would say about Dr. Paigen I realized how groundbreaking her research was back in 1978 at Love Canal. How when she presented her theories and her research findings around the Love Canal chemicals and adverse health problems she was dismissed, ridiculed, and harassed by those who wanted to silence her, just like Rachel Carson.

Beverly conducted health studies and showed that 56% of the children were born with birth defects. She suggested that this rate may occur in the next generation as well. She found there were more girls than boys born at Love Canal. All of these finding and others were what we are calling today endocrine disrupting chemical effects. In 1978 endocrine disrupting chemicals were not on the radar screen of most environmental health scientists other than in wildlife, as Rachel’s work pointed out.

Beverly demonstrated how the chemicals had likely moved out of the dumpsite the Love Canal and into the homes that surrounded the site. Again she was dismissed. Today, there is a name for this movement of chemicals called vapor intrusion and there is even an EPA approved technology to remove the chemicals from homes called vapor intrusion mitigation technologies.

Beverly like Rachel Carson suffered for her commitment to speak truth to power. She worked for the State of New York Department of Health as a researcher at Roswell Cancer Institute. Her boss was the Health Commissioner who opposed acknowledging anything was wrong at Love Canal. The result of her speaking up . . . of her speaking out . . . was her staff at her research laboratory was cut, as was her budget, space and she was asked to keep a written record of everything she did.

Later she was called in for a personal IRS audit. As the auditor began to open his file a news article about Dr. Paigen fell out. Beverly called foul play and asked the state of New York for an apology for harassing her. The State did publicly apologize.

When the NYS Health Commissioner refused to sign the agreement for millions of dollars in research funds that would come to Roswell and the state from the federal government, she took her research money and left the state. But she didn’t stop her work with the Love Canal families. Beverly continued her research with Lynn Goldman at Oakland’s Children’s Hospital and published the first study on growth and maturation of Love Canal children exposed to environmental chemicals. This study like the others link slow growth of long bones in children with environmental chemical exposures.

All of the studies that Dr. Paigen did at Love Canal were vindicated. NYS Department of health confirmed the birth defect rate of 56% and found that Love Canal children were giving birth to children with the same rate of birth defects. Her studies on abnormal sex ratio were also confirmed as was so many of her other findings.

The State of New York has never apologized for their harassment and unfair treatment of Dr. Paigen. But, Beverly isn’t really looking for an apology she just wants the public health scientists to conduct scientific studies that are not politically manipulated, that answers as best as science can, the questions of environmental exposures and health. People, American families need honest answers in order to make decisions on their lives. Government health scientists need to be left alone to conduct scientific research regardless of the outcome, not be told what to do and say.

I wanted to take this opportunity to publicly say thank you Beverly for your courage, passion and most importantly for providing the groundbreaking scientific findings to the world regardless of the consequences. You are today’s Rachel Carson.

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Using Blood Lead Levels to Set Cleanup Goals

Lead smelter in Kellogg, ID.The creativity of our government regulators never ceases to amaze me. I’ve seen a lot of incredibly stupid and callous decisions in my time, but this one is right up at the top. The US environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Region 10 and the Idaho Department of Environmental Quality somehow thought it was a good idea to use Blood Lead Levels in children to establish a remedial action objective (RAO) at the Bunker Hill Superfund site in Kellogg, ID. According to a recent peer reviewed paper published in the American Journal of Public Health, this decision is codified in EPA’s 1991 Record of Decision for the Bunker Hill site (1).

According to the authors, “the 1991 ROD for the Bunker Hill mine defined the EPA RAOs for child blood lead levels and stipulated the following criteria measures: (1) less than 5% of tested children should have blood lead levels greater than 10 micrograms per deciliter and (2) less than 1% of tested children should have blood lead levels greater than 15 micrograms per deciliter.” You got that. As long as no more than 5% of the children in Kellogg have blood lead levels greater than 10 micrograms per deciliter (ug/dl) and no more than 1% had levels great than 15 ug/dl, then the site cleanup efforts could be considered “successful” (1).

What was EPA thinking when they decided to use lead levels in children to define the effectiveness of a cleanup? And then, to accept that some children will have blood lead levels that exceed the recommended criteria is unconscionable. Even if this factor was not the sole criterion used to make decisions about the effectiveness of the cleanup, it is still unethical to use the children of Kellogg in this way.

The adverse health outcomes of exposure to lead are well understood. Earlier this year the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) revised its guidelines for lead lowering the blood lead level for protecting children’s health from 10 to 5 ug/dl. At the time CDC’s Advisory Committee for Childhood Lead Poisoning Prevention whose recommendations led to this change made it clear that no safe blood lead level in children has been identified.

Lead was mined at the Bunker Hill site for more than 100 years and at one time this was the home of the largest lead smelter in the United States. When the mine shut down in 1981, it left behind a toxic legacy of huge waste piles and residual contamination everywhere. Blood lead testing in children as earlier as 1976 found that 99% of Kellogg children living within 1 mile of the smelter who were tested had blood lead levels greater than 40 ug/dl (2). Today it is much less clear what the blood lead levels are because so few children are tested.

It is an injustice for EPA to treat the residents of Kellogg in this way. The residents In Kellogg have suffered disproportionately not only from lead exposure which continues to this day, but also from social disparities that include unemployment, poverty, and limited educational opportunity. Although there has been substantial cleanup at the site, it remains unclear whether there has been a corresponding improvement in community health and wellbeing. So much more needs to be done. This of course will never be achieved in communities like Kellogg, so long as decision makers think there’s nothing wrong with using the children as canaries in the mine fields.

1. Moodie, SM and Evans, EL. Ethical Issues in Using Children’s Blood Lead levels as a Remedial Action Objective. American J Public Health 2011 101(S1): S156-S160.

2. Landrigan PJ, Baker EL Jr, Feldman RG, et al. Increased lead absorption with anemia and slowed nerve conduction in children near a lead smelter. J Pediatrics 1976 89(6):904-910.

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Our Children's Schools Matter – When We Fail-They Fail

It is sad that across the country as new youngsters are entering school they are placed in harm’s way. Their emotions are mixed worried about leaving their home, daily environment and routine, while at the same time excited about their new experiences.  But toxic dangers in the air or nearby are not part of their mantra.

Yet in schools across the country parents are concerned that the location of the school building will threaten the health of their children and possible their children’s ability to lean. For example, in Richmond, Virginia there is a petition, asking the Richmond School Board to ensure the preschoolers of Norrell Elementary, near a landfill are being educated in a safe environment.  Although the petition has gained some national attention to an issue, there hasn’t been any resolution to longstanding concerns to Richmond, Virginia residents.  It hasn’t provided the pressure yet to force authorities to answer parents questions.

It has with 27,370 signatures created awareness about schools on landfills across the country and beyond. And, signatures on this petition has provided energy to beleaguered city residents who feel like they’ve been disregarded and disrespected by authorities.  A new round of testing has been committed of the school building grounds near the landfill but there is no evidence of safety.

“Local resident Kim Allen said, these developments have empowered us as we’ve come to know ourselves as people who make a difference in our community.  I, and other private citizens like me, are lending a voice to concern for the safety of children, children like my four-year-old nephew Malachi. We speak on behalf of ourselves and our families. Being a private citizen is a privilege and a powerful place to stand when addressing the safety of the children who attend Norrell Elementary school.

The question I asked myself was, Would I be okay with Malachi being in the Norrell School building for 6 hours a day, 5 days a week?  My answer . . . I don’t know. Given that concern and the urgent nature of the matter, I helped to initiate the petition.”

Despite working for over thirty years at CHEJ I’m still shocked by the blatant disregard for children’s health year after year.  Schools continue to be built on or near dumpsites like Ms. Allen speaks about or the school built in Detroit literally on top of a Superfund site. Most of these schools, not surprisingly, serve low wealth and communities of color.

Further harming everyone in the school family, when the children fail at the standardized testing it is the parents or the teachers fault — not the fault of the chemicals that inhabit their ability to learn or cause them to be sick and absent too often from school to keep up.

In Houston, Texas their recently built high school, which houses 3,500 students, is encircled by a dozen chemical facilities.  So close that if there is an accident or release at any of them, the children are trapped, left only to put wet paper towels along the window sills.  Yet, the releases from these facilities are constant and as children enter, leave or go outdoors for recess or sports they are exposed to air pollution daily.  Like the other schools when these young people fail at meeting the goals of standardized testing their parents and teachers are blamed.

It is time for all Americans to stand up and speak out about putting our children in harm’s way.  It is our tax dollars that are building these schools and we should have laws that compel schools authorities to build places of learning in safe environments.  Enough is enough.  Our children matter and are the future of our country.