By Stephen Lester.
I’m often asked what it is that I do at CHEJ. As a trained scientist, I provide technical assistance to grassroots community groups. People send me their environmental testing data to review. This data spans chemicals found in their drinking water, the air behind their child’s school or spouse’s factory, or the soil in the park where their children play. They ask me to do this primarily because they want to know what the results mean. But they also believe that if they gather enough information – the “right” information – and put it into the hands of the right decision-makers, they will do the right thing.
So what do you think? True or false? Is information power? Can you solve your environmental problem(s) this way? No, you cannot. By itself, information is not power. It’s not the information but rather what you do with it that makes all the difference in the world. Just gathering data and sharing it no matter how important or impactful will likely not change a bureaucrat’s or a politician’s mind. But if you use the information in a thoughtful and strategic way, whether it’s to educate your community or others, and then to target the bureaucrats and politicians with a set of specific demands, you have a much greater chance to succeed.
At CHEJ, we work directly with community leaders to help them become knowledgeable and proficient in understanding the technical, health, statistical and scientific aspects of chemical exposures. We also work with community leaders to help them understand how to use technical information to achieve their goals and win what their community needs to resolve. What we do includes reviewing testing data; cleanup plans; technologies for treating/disposing of hazardous waste and household garbage; reviewing plans to build new facilities; defining a community-based testing plan that includes where to test, what to test (soil, air, water), what to look for; evaluating a health study completed by a government agency or other entity; and so much more. CHEJ also has more than 50 guidebooks and fact-packs on a wide range of topics that you can use to focus your group on what it needs to be successful.
So don’t get trapped into believing you can win by gathering information, or become frozen into inaction until you gather a bit more information. What really matters is what you do with the information you have and how it strategically fits into your organizing plan.
To learn more about CHEJ’s technical assistance services, see our website at http://chej.org/assistance/technical-assistance/.