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RI EJ School Policy 5-22-13 013

Building the Base for Change

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We want you, our supporters and members to be the first to know that CHEJ has completed our planning process. Our Board of Directors decided that CHEJ needs to have a laser focus on building the base of grassroots groups across the country and that we will no longer take the lead on national policy or greening the marketplace efforts. Our goal is to enhance the capacity of grassroots groups and activists as they wage campaigns to protect the environment, public health, economic growth and energy/climate related solutions.

There is a critical need in the field for CHEJ’s core institutional strengths of building leadership and organizational capacity. That is not to say that others aren’t out in the field, they are. But most are activists or advocates, not trainers. CHEJ’s Leadership Training Academy will harness 33 years of experience working with and training communities. CHEJ’s Executive Director brings notoriety that attracts the media which gets messages out and has credibility with community leaders because she comes from a similar background at Love Canal. Read more >

20th Anniversary Environmental Justice Order

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This February 11, 2014, will mark the anniversary of the historic Environmental Justice Executive Order signed by President Clinton.


Alonzo Spencer CHEJ's BOD Member


Although the Executive Order was signed by President Clinton nearly 20 years ago, it has never been fully implemented. Yes, there have been many changes in understanding and the beginnings of addressing the issues environmental justice communities face and suffer from daily, but quite honestly, I feel it’s a big disappointment. There was so much hope when leaders from all 50 states came together in 1991 to create the voice and the platform for a mulch-faceted program that would begin to recognized and address the issues faced by low-wealth and communities of color.

Dana Alston, working at that time for the Panos Institute in D.C. described the gathering and enthusiasm this way. “Joined by delegates from Puerto Rico, Canada, Central and South America, and the Marshall Islands, those present at the October 24-27 meeting in Washington, D.C., set in motion a process of redefining environmental issues in their own terms. People of color gathered not in reaction to the environmental movement, but rather to reaffirm their traditional connection to and respect for the natural world, and to speak for themselves on some of the most critical issues of our times. For people of color, the environment is woven into an overall framework and understanding of social, racial, and economic justice. The definitions that emerge from the environmental justice movement led by people of color are deeply rooted in culture and spirituality, and encompass all aspects of daily life—where we live, work, and play. Read more >

Polluted water

Yes, EPA Did The Right Thing

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December 24th 2014, Washington, D.C. & Parker County, TX – Today the EPA Inspector General found EPA Region 6 was justified in legally intervening to protect Parker County residents’ drinking water from drilling impacts. At Senator James Inhofe’s request, the Inspector General investigated to determine if Region 6’s intervention against Range Resources was due to political influence by the Obama administration.

Read more here.

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Waco judge sets tentative date for trial over explosion in West

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By , journalist for Dallas Mourning News.


A tentative date of Oct. 6, 2014, has been set for the trial over the explosion at West Fertilizer Co., which killed 15, injured hundreds, and did perhaps a $100 million in property damage.

That gives lawyers only a year to prepare, an ambitious time frame for such a potentially large and complex case involving at least a couple of hundred plaintiffs. But Waco District Court Judge Jim Meyer signaled flexibility.

“I don’t mind moving that date if it looks like we’re going to be running up against it,” Judge Meyer told the few dozen lawyers packed into the small courtroom.

CF Industries, one of the nation’s two manufacturers of ammonium nitrate fertilizer, is alleged to have made the fertilizer that detonated after a fire engulfed the facility April 17.

Liability questions first focused on West Fertilizer Co. Authorities said the company had kept the chemical in wooden bins in a warehouse with no sprinkler system. The locally owned company had only $1 million in insurance to cover any damage it caused.

In recent months, the city and scores of residents who suffered losses have turned their attention to CF Industries.

Plaintiffs have alleged that CF Industries should have better instructed West Fertilizer Co. on storage methods or used an additive that lessened the ammonium nitrate’s volatility.

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A Circle of Poison and Poverty

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Imagine for a moment that you live in a community that is poor. You work every day in the service industry but just can’t make enough money to move to a better neighborhood. Now imagine that you have a young child who is gifted with high level of intelligence. You want to send your child to a school that can challenge her to help reach her potential. But, you can’t because of your limited income.

This is how one mother described her situation to me recently in Detroit, Michigan. She went on to say that the area around her home and school had lead levels, left over from former lead smelter activities, which were three times the legal standard. Her child and her neighbor’s children began their lives with so much potential. Today, the children are lead poisoned and are having difficulty passing the state school standardize tests. In fact, so many children are failing the standardized tests that their school is about to be closed, their teachers fired and their community further impacted by another empty building and no neighborhood school.

When people hear about the struggles in environmental justice communities they often only think about the immediate pollution and health impacts in a low wealth community. But to understand it one level deeper you need to understand that families living in these communities are really trapped. If you were only to look at their children’s ability to get out of poverty and reach the birth potential, it speaks volumes about the real world situation.

Their children cannot reach their potential because they are impacted by the chemicals like lead in their environments. Often young people, because they are frustrated in trying to achieve in school while faced with asthma, learning disabilities, and the inability to maintain attention students end up dropping out of school. Students weren’t born with the inability to achieve; it was due to their exposures to lead and other toxic environmental chemicals that they developed problems. Once students drop out of school they have little ability to improve their economic status and thus continue the family’s legacy of poverty.

Those who have the power to change this cycle of poison and poverty choose not to. Instead they cover their intentional neglect by blaming the victims, the parents, teachers, and community leaders. Not only do those in power blame the innocent, they exasperate the problem by ignoring the existing pollution while placing more polluting faculties in the area. I think it was Mayor Bloomberg who said, “Do you really want me to put that smokestack in downtown Manhattan?” when community leaders near NYC navy yard objected to an incinerator being added to their burdens.

I’m not sure how to change this situation. It is a larger societal crisis that will take the majority of people to demand change. Today it is only the voices of the desperate parents, frustrated teachers that sound the alarm and cry for justice. This must change.


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Teachers and Students That Inspire

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I was invited by a science teacher Kendall Jensen to visit with her students at Roosevelt High School during my travel to assist the Portland, Oregon community group Neighbors for Clean Air. I have visited classrooms often throughout my work at CHEJ. However, this school, its teachers and the students truly inspired me in a way that I left more energized than when I came.

To understand why, you need to understand the environment. The school built in 1921 houses over 680 students. The students come from a low wealth area with 84% of the students receiving free or reduced lunch program, making it Oregon’s poorest high school. A few of the students live in the shelters and are homeless.

Moreover, the school is the most diverse in the state with the student population consisting of 31% Latino, 30% white, 23% African American, 9% Asian/Pacific Islander, and 4% Native American. In a school population where there are so many negative impacts working against students’ ability to succeed, I walked into a room full of students gathered together to take steps to improve themselves and their environment.

Ms. Kendall Jensen a science teacher at the high school has inspired and motivated the students to explore the environmental problems in the community. As I walked into the classroom where we were having lunch and conversation with students about Love Canal and the work that the neighborhood group, Neighbors for Clean Air, was working on the room was full of energy from eager students. No one was getting extra credit; no one was getting any benefit other than the opportunity to learn more about their neighborhood’s air problems.

I would be remiss if I didn’t also share that this was one of the first beautiful spring days in Portland with the temperature in the 70’s, sunny and clear. Yet students motivated by Kendall and their own curiosity came to learn instead of joining their friends for lunch on this beautiful day. Students listened and learned not just about the local toxic air pollution problems but about taking leadership becoming their own advocates and standing up for what they think is right. This High School is in the direct line of toxic air pollution. It is one of Portland’s schools that rank in the top 5% of all US schools with the most dangerous outdoor air quality in the country.

As a mother of four and someone who has spent time with extraordinary teachers like Kendall, it is clear that when students fail it is not because of a failed teacher. Sometime, especially in schools like Roosevelt High School where students face challenges everyday to survive, it the added toxic environment that directly affects their ability to learn and to pass standardized tests. We know with a level of scientific confidence that toxic chemicals in the environment are directly connected to children’s’ ability to concentrate and learn. Children facing daily toxic lifestyles as it is being referred to now – meaning single family households, poverty, drug influences, poor diet and so on – is exasperated by exposures to real toxic chemicals. Clearly the students in that classroom want to learn, want to succeed and want to take control of their futures. They and the school’s teachers need help; they need a healthy environment, with clean air for their students to succeed. Clean air is something that teachers do not have the ability to change on their own. It is the responsibility of the government to give students a chance by both providing the tools and the healthy environment to make success possible. If the students at this school fail it is more likely the fault of the lack of a healthy environment and not the teachers.

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National Commission on the Health Impacts of Mountaintop Removal Mining Releases Recommendations Calls for a Moratorium

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Today the National Commission on the Health Impacts of Mountaintop Removal Mining, a group of independent physicians and scientists, released recommendations for actions necessary to ensure the health and safety of the residents of Appalachia who are impacted by mountaintop removal mining. The Center for Health, Environment & Justice (CHEJ) commissioned the scientists to review a report prepared by CHEJ that analyzed the existing body of peer-reviewed, scientific studies on the impacts of mountaintop removal coal mining on human health. That review led to the recommendations released today. The review and the Commission’s statement are available online

lois and debbie

From Homemaker to Hell Raiser in Love Canal

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Lois Gibbs took to the stage that day 35 years ago, in the seemingly idyllic community of Love Canal, N.Y., and began to find her voice. Transforming herself from homemaker to hell-raiser, she helped convince then-President Jimmy Carter to come to town in 1980 and remove 900 families from a 21,000-ton toxic dump. Read more.

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Radioactive Guinea Pigs

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“This is a public health policy only Dr. Strangelove could embrace,” said Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER) Executive Director Jeff Ruch,  This week, the White House approved a radical radiation cleanup rollback that will threaten people near radioactive accidents. Cancer deaths are expected to skyrocket after radiological accidents with the harmful new “cleanup” standard.

“The White House has given final approval for dramatically raising permissible radioactive levels in drinking water and soil following “radiological incidents,” such as nuclear power-plant accidents and dirty bombs. The final version, slated for Federal Register publication is a win for the nuclear industry which seeks what its proponents call a “new normal” for radiation exposure among the U.S population, according Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER).

 Issued by the Environmental Protection Agency, the radiation guides (called Protective Action Guides or PAGs) allow cleanup many times more lax than anything EPA has ever before accepted. These guides govern evacuations, shelter-in-place orders, food restrictions and other actions following a wide range of “radiological emergencies.” The Obama administration blocked a version of these PAGs from going into effect during its first days in office. The version given approval late last Friday is substantially similar to those proposed under Bush but duck some of the most controversial aspects:

 In soil, the PAGs allow long-term public exposure to radiation in amounts as high as 2,000 millirems. This would, in effect, increase a longstanding 1 in 10,000 person cancer rate to a rate of 1 in 23 persons exposed over a 30-year period;  In water, the PAGs punt on an exact new standard and EPA “continues to seek input on this.” But the thrust of the PAGs is to give on-site authorities much greater “flexibility” in setting aside established limits; and resolves an internal fight inside EPA between nuclear versus public health specialists in favor of the former. The PAGs are the product of Gina McCarthy, the assistant administrator for air and radiation whose nomination to serve as EPA Administrator is taken up this week by the Senate.

Despite the years-long internal fight, this is the first public official display of these guides. This takes place as Japan grapples with these same issues in the two years following its Fukushima nuclear disaster.

“This is a public health policy only Dr. Strangelove could embrace. If this typifies the environmental leadership we can expect from Ms. McCarthy, then EPA is in for a long, dirty slog,” stated PEER Executive Director Jeff Ruch, noting that the EPA package lacks a cogent rationale, is largely impenetrable and hinges on a series of euphemistic “weasel words.” “No compelling justification is offered for increasing the cancer deaths of Americans innocently exposed to corporate miscalculations several hundred-fold.”

 Reportedly, the PAGs had been approved last fall but their publication was held until after the presidential election. The rationale for timing their release right before McCarthy’s confirmation hearing is unclear. Since the PAGs guide agency decision-making and do not formally set standards or repeal statutory requirements, such as the Safe Drinking Water Act and Superfund, they will go into full effect following a short public comment period. Nonetheless, the PAGs will likely determine what actions take place on the ground in the days, weeks, months and, in some cases, years following a radiological emergency. “

 For more information, go to http://www.peer.org/news/news-releases/2013/04/08/white-house-approves-radical-radiation-cleanup-rollback/


Jan2010Asthma

Study Finds Pediatricians Are Integrating Environmental Management into Asthma Care

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Following a brief, targeted educational intervention, pediatricians reported a significant increase in knowledge about environmental triggers of asthma and a willingness to incorporate exposure history questions and remediation recommendations in their routine practice. These improvements persisted at a 3-6 month follow-up interval compared to baseline levels. The findings were published in Clinical Pediatrics. The study was conducted by NEEF’s Pediatric Asthma Faculty Champions using a standardized PowerPoint presentation based on NEEF’s Environmental Management of Pediatric Asthma: Guidelines for Health Care Providers.
Read more . . .