What’s Up with Brownfields and Environmental Justice?

The City of Eugene, the City of Springfield, and Lane County are looking for public input in the process of finding, cleaning up and redeveloping brownfields. Brownfields are abandoned properties that are not being re-purposed because of the likely presence of hazardous substances, pollutants, or contaminants.  Brownfield result in neighborhood “blight;” they make people feel unsafe and they drag down property values.

Beyond Toxics is assisting to make sure that the community plays a vital role in the decision-making.  We invite everyone to the first public input meeting on Tuesday, June 25, 6:00pm at Fairfield School. Please come down to tell us where you think a brownfield might be, and what you would like to see happen to the property to benefit the community.

Why is Beyond Toxics participating in the upcoming Brownfields Assessment project in West Eugene? Our research shows that residents living near brownfields sites are more likely to be low-income, minority or Latino and have less access to public decision-making.  These residents are impacted by brownfield pollution, which can result in higher rates of environmentally-based diseases such as asthma and cancer. Kids in West Eugene have much higher asthma rates than other places in Oregon, so it is very important to clean things up whenever possible.

In a recent example of a clean-up, Beyond Toxics pointed out that hundreds of tons of polluted creosote logs had been dumped in a well-known pond that is part of the West Eugene wetlands.  Bringing the hazardous waste site to the attention of environmental agencies resulted in a massive clean-up!

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Pictured above: some of the hazardous waste that was removed from the pond, to the benefit of neighborhoods and wildlife alike.

Communities near brownfields should have a say-so in plans for re-development.  And, the chances are, nearby residents have a vision for creating more community livability, open-space, jobs and housing.

To help guide the public input process into brownfields, Kelly Groth, one of our University of Oregon graduate interns wrote a well conceived report on how to include the community in a brownfields re-development  project. Kelly reviewed the published literature and studied the environmental health situation in West Eugene. Together with our West Eugene Environmental Health Project partner, Centro Latino Americano, we support her recommendation that this brownfield redevelopment project must be approached within an environmental justice framework.

Environmental justice is ensuring equal health and environmental protection for everyone – with special consideration for communities that are disproportionately burdened by environmental pollution and who are economically and socially distressed.

As Kelly’s report suggests, “Involving all stakeholders within the process will help to effectively create understanding and strong communication between local governments, agencies, and community groups in brownfield redevelopment.”

The brownfields assessment must look at community level indicators and community needs. The residents of West Eugene whose lives are affected by air pollution must have a seat at the table to have a chance to talk about their community vision.

Please contact us or contact the City of Eugene about your ideas and concerns about brownfields.  Do you think there might be a brownfield located in your neighborhood? Would you like to have that site tested for hazardous waste? Let’s work together to identify a property’s potential market value as well opportunities to improve our community.

Lisa Arkin, Executive Director

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