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Wangari Maathai

Women Make The Difference In Action on Climate Change

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Greenbelt Movement in Africa

I just spent the last three days in St. Louis, Missouri with the group, Just Moms STL to help them develop a plan to put pressure on the elected representatives with the power and ability to help move families away from a horrible situation and clean up the burning radioactive dumpsite. This Superfund site and emergency situation has been ignored by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency for decades. In brief the recent study done by the State Attorney General’s office said they community could experience in 3 to 6 months a Chernobyl like event exploding and releasing radioactive wastes throughout the area.

The leaders are women with children, jobs, homes to care for that are leading this fight. But then most of the groups CHEJ works with are led by women 80% at our last count. Yet there is so little recognition of the women in the environmental moment, a frustration that I’ve felt for decades. Yes, my friend and fellow Goldman Prize winner rightfully received recognition but she’s the exception and her work, which continues today is critical to addressing climate change.

Returning home from my work with Just Moms STL, checking my e-mails I came across the article that was written by Tracy Mann from Earth Island. It’s worth a read because it says everything I would have said. Strange it came when it did, fate maybe. Below is an excerpt but the entire article is worth the read.

“In fact, women organizing to protect natural resources and develop community resilience is not a new phenomenon. In the 1970s a group of peasant women in the India threw their arms around trees to prevent the destruction of forests in Northern India in an action that came to be known as the Chipko, or Treehugger Movement. Led by Nobel Laureate Wangari Maathai, the Kenya-based Green Belt Movement mobilized rural women to plant trees to restore plundered forests, generate income and serve as an engine of empowerment. In the 1980s, American Lois Gibbs led the famous Love Canal protest in upstate New York to expose and rectify the toxic waste dump over which her town had been constructed. Her years-long struggle inspired her to organize women and people of color around the common interest of climate justice. Canada’s Tzeporah Berman has been on the frontlines of community-based movements against environmental threats since the 1990s when she was in the forefront of the Clayoquot Sound protests against the unconscionable clearcutting of temperate rainforest in Western Canada. More recently she has led acts of civil disobedience against the transnational pipeline and tar sands expansion.

The women mobilizing for September 29 may not yet be known as leaders or heroes, but the Global Women’s Climate Justice Day of Action is one more potent opportunity to tell their stories. It’s an opportunity for global women to join hands, just as my mother and sister and I did 45 years ago, and take their rightful place at the front of the parade, as essential catalysts to solutions to our greatest of all challenges.”

To read the full article click here:

There Can Be No Meaningful Action on Climate Change Without Women

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Where In The World Is Gina McCarthy?

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Has EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy totally written off oversight and action in contaminated communities and the Superfund program? Is she just turning a deaf ear to the cries for help?

McCarthy did visited Colorado after and EPA cleanup accidentally released a million gallons of toxic wastewater into the Animas River, a tributary of the Colorado River turning the water orange color. That was so big, so bad, she just couldn’t ignore it.

McCarthy said about the accident, “It is a heartbreaking situation.” I can’t disagree with that but what about all the on-going toxic waste sites where children, hardworking tax paying families live and can’t even get a simple response or acknowledgement from her office?

I’ve never seen so many community being treated so poorly by EPA. This past week in Springfield, Ohio over 700 people turned out at a meeting to tell EPA “NO.” Even the Chamber of Commerce (not always standing with us) paid for buses to help people get to the EPA meeting to show EPA people are serious. State Senator Chris Widener (R) also called on EPA to remove hazardous. Quite loudly they said, “Dig it up and take it out!”  Did that get McCarthy’s attention?

EPA wants to dig up more than 2.8 million gallons of wastes that sits over the drinking water aquifer and put it into an adjunct hole, which also sits above the aquifer that provides drinking water to county families. The community has been fighting for years to get the wastes away from their drinking water source.

Ohio not alone. A deaf ear was turned to the folks in Birmingham, Alabama a low wealth community of color. Instead of listening to a very strong assessment by the federal health agency (ATSDR) that children are at serious risk in North Birmingham stating:

  • Past and current exposure to arsenic found in surface soil of some residential yards could harm people’s health.
  • Children are especially at risk. past and current exposure to lead found in surface soil of some residential yards could harm people’s health.
  • Swallowing this lead‐contaminated soil could cause harmful health effects, especially in children and in the developing fetus of pregnant women. long‐term exposure to PAHs found in the surface soil of some residential yards is at a level of concern for lifetime cancer risk.

EPA’s response is to tell parents to not let their children into their homes until they have taken their shoe and clothes off.

Does Administrator McCarthy really think this is the answer? Has she even talked to her staff about why they are handling this situation or others so poorly? I doubt it.

Missouri joins Ohio and Alabama in being ignored. St. Louis, MO almost every politician from federal Senator Blunt (R) to most recently the County Executive, has asked EPA and McCarthy personally to address the concerns of the burning landfill moving toward the radioactive waste landfill and cluster of childhood cancers. Yesterday a new report from the Attorney General’s office said the groundwater and, yes the trees around the site, are radioactive.

The community leaders Just Moms STL raised money through bake sales and traveled to Washington, D.C. to meet with the administrator this past spring and she closed her door to them. She was there in her office and choose to ignore the mothers who came to talk with her.

I understand that Administrator Gina McCarthy has a full plate with Climate Change, Air Standards and so on but people are literally dying. Her office has only suggested that concerned public should look to the regional offices for help.  Unfortunately, regional offices don’t have the authority to open a Record of Decision or relocate temporarily or permanently families at risk.

Many are advocating a federal investigation on EPA and Gina McCarthy’s response or better the lack of response to serious toxic waste crisis. If you are interested in helping to advocate an investigative hearing let us know and we’ll connect you with others.

Gina McCarthy, enough is enough, please pay attention.

Mary at Cin Park

I’m Dying of Cancer … It Was Preventable

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Mary has terminal lung cancer. She never smoked. But what she did do is walk around the local park every morning 24 laps. She believed that she was doing a good thing for her health, getting exercise and fresh air.

Unfortunately, the park that she walked daily was found to be contaminated with radioactive materials. It’s all part of the St. Louis historical work on the Manhattan Project. Mary attended the local meeting this past week about the cleanup of the radioactive wastes. Officials told her that they were not going to close the park that she once walked around daily because the children are back in school. The children, they believe wouldn’t spend much time in the park because of school so they didn’t need to take any  action.

Outraged that no one would close the park, the park she believed was the root cause of her now death sentence, Mary decided to do something about it.  Mary stood in front of the park with a sign that asked people to ask her why she was there, so she could tell them her story. How her grandson will never really know his Nana because she will be gone before they can do much together.

Today the park that Mary once walked laps around  is closed, because Mary wouldn’t leave the entrance with her yellow sign “Park Closed,”  until it was officially closed to innocent children and families. Thank you Mary.

The unfortunate truth is that it took a victim of radioactive exposure, a mother and grandmother to take a stand and protect the innocent from known harm. Where are our health protectors?  Where are the local, state and more importantly federal health authorities that have jurisdiction  and decision making powers when such decisions are needed. Who are they afraid of?

I’m am so tired of the federal government who has investigated and defined the cleanup and testing of this site and so many other sites, turn their heads when it comes to making a decision about protecting the public health. This is not the case when the public is placed at risk from food poisoning or a drug that proved to be more harmful than thought. Why are people exposed to radioactive wastes or toxic wastes the abandoned child? Why is there No Protection or Unequal Protection under government authorities when it comes to working class or low wealth families?

Time and time again we at CHEJ have seen that families are ignored when it comes to the real life threat of exposures to materials that will cause cancer and other diseases. It is well past time that the health professionals who took an oath “to do know harm” to step up to the plate and protect innocent families in the same manner, in the same time frame, as they do families exposed to food related o