Poisoned Communities — A Call to Expose and Address Rampant Environmental Injustice

jacquelinepattersonBy Jacqueline Patterson, Director of the NAACP Climate Gap Initiative In late October, I attended the Poisoned Communities Meeting from the Environmental Protection Agency Region 4. The event consisted of community members from the 6 states that comprise the region providing testimony on their situations; the EPA Senior Managers making statements regarding their planned responses; and the community members responding to the EPA comments with a torrent of outrage. The stories I heard were heartbreaking: * Sheila Holt-Orstead from Dickson Tennessee shared how she became involved with environmental justice when she discovered that her father had cancer. She was subsequently diagnosed herself with Stage 2 breast cancer and learned that other family members had cancer. Investigation revealed that the Dickson County Landfill, adjacent to her family farm, had dumped waste that included tricholoroethelyne, or TCE, a cancer-causing chemical that was used as a degreaser. This substance had been seeping into ground water at levels that far exceeded EPA's safety standards. If this wasn't horrifying enough, she learned that letters from the state sent to white families warned them of the hazard and placed them on clean drinking water from the municipal supply and letters to black families reassured them that the water was fine and potable. The NAACP Legal Defense Fund is representing Sheila's family in a discrimination case. Sheila's summary statement to EPA was simple: "Do your job."