The pandemic of COVID-19 exposed the truth of environmental injustices. People of color have more underlying and serious health conditions, including heart disease, respiratory diseases such as asthma or chronic bronchitis and diabetes. Exacerbating these health vulnerabilities is inequitable access to adequate health care coverage and discrimination when seeking medical treatments. While age is certainly a risk factor, it turns out the biggest determinants of whether a person might die from contracting the virus is living near air pollution emitters and being African American.
I’m writing this from the bedside of my childhood friend who grew up on the same street as I. Ten days ago she was fine. Today she is transitioning to her passing. Her breathing is ragged, her eyes are unfocused. Her doctors at Stanford University Medical Center told the family they have never seen such a rare and aggressive cancer. They can’t stop it, they can’t even slow it down.
Cancer. Linked to environmental pollution from toxic chemicals and poisonous pesticides.
Portland Clean Air is releasing today a new report calling into question the validity of Oregon’s air permitting system. The study, A Comparison of Toxic Chemical Use by Permit Type in Multnomah and Washington County, looks at toxic chemicals used by manufacturers in Multnomah and Washington Counties that are reported to the State Fire Marshall and compares them to those reported to air regulators. The study demonstrates that up to 95% of hazardous chemical usage is by industries that do not report their hazardous air pollution to a regulatory authority.
Victory for small (and honest) non-profits in the battle against the giant (and manipulative) coal industry!
In spring of this year, Beyond Toxics submitted a Public Records Request to the Port of Coos Bay to learn the details of plans to haul coal through Eugene for export to nations in the Far East? Remember that they demanded $22,000 to get what should be public information? If that wasn’t enough, the Port of Coos Bay tacked on a long list of intrusive questions, demanding the disclosure of our members’ names and addresses.
I want to be clear: I am not against trains (I often travel by passenger train)! I am, however, critical about using our rail system to haul coal to coastal ports and then load the coal and ship it off to Asian destinations.
The Port of Coos Bay is planning to build a terminal to export coal delivered via rail by trains that would snake through the Columbia Gorge and Willamette Valley before switching tracks at Eugene onto the Coos Bay Rail Link. Many other communities in the Northwest are threatened with severe health hazards as coal gets transported through communities in Oregon and Washington by rail, barge, or shipped through the Columbia River Gorge, Portland and towns north.
Eugene, nationally recognized as a bike city, a community near nature and a place where we value sustainability, would not normally attract attention around environmental human rights and justice issues. Which is why for one day, Beyond Toxics and Centro LatinoAmericano invited city and agency officials, students and community leaders on an environmental justice bus tour to West Eugene where we got the opportunity to see how families live through the lens of “environmental justice”.
Executive Director Lisa Arkin and I made the three hour drive to Medford, Oregon to give an Asthma Care Workshop. A long trip for us, but well worth it. Last summer, UNETE, a farmworkers’ advocacy organization, invited us to collaborate with them in doing a workshop (see our pictures from the workshop) for the people they serve.