The following is an article I came across while researching my paper, it is easy to forget that these issues literally neighbor us, and they are not a distant, remote concern. Enjoy.
Environmental Justice: Fighting Environmental Justice
Lorraine Granado walked into the offices of the Cross Community Coalition recently to discuss the environmental hazards surrounding communities in northeast Denver. Suddenly an odor permeated the room.
"What's that?" Granado asked Michael Maes, director of the coalition's youth training program.
A visitor questioned whether the stench might be from the factories and plants surrounding the Globeville, Elyria, Swansea and Curtis Park neighborhoods, or motorists on Interstate 70.
Depending on the wind currents, Granado says, the smell could be from the Ralston Purina Consumer Products factory, a sewage treatment plant, a lamb rendering plant, nearby refineries or all four.
This time the stench wasn't from the industrial sector. Granado concluded it was probably mildew inside the offices.
"I've learned to distinguish, believe me. We're completely surrounded," said Granado, chairwoman of the coalition's Neighbors for a Toxic-Free Community. The coalition's offices are at East 46th Avenue and Josephine Street.
Minority activists say too many companies have set up shop in the communities of color, disregarding the air and ground pollution they cause.
For some time industry and the four northeast Denver neighborhoods have mixed, much to the dismay of the area's 17,000 residents. Local governments and health departments have been slow to put a clamp on the high-polluting corporations, environmental activists.
Neighbors for a Toxic-Free Community started Colorado People's Environmental and Economic Network, a statewide organization that deals with environmental hotspots affecting minority and low-income communities.
Granado, 46, said the group's goal is to support grassroots groups when they feel they're being infringed on by corporations planning to set up dump sites and incinerators near homes.
Patrick D. Bustos, public affairs specialist for the federal Environmental Protection Agency, said that in Colorado, the areas most saturated with Superfund cleanups are north and northeast Denver and southern Adams County. Superfund sites are targeted by the EPA for corporations that leave abandoned hazardous waste.
"There are a lot of refineries and warehouses up there," Bustos said. "The area could be designated an environmental injustice zone."
Bustos said questions have been raised about the speed in which local and state health departments and the EPA respond to authorized cleanup sites in and around minority communities.
The charge of environmental racism has been criticized by some who feel that non-minority communities also have pollution and hazardous waste. Bustos said the criticism is unwarranted even if industries were operating before families moved in to work.
"Those are lose-lose arguments," Bustos said. "That doesn't give them the right to do what they historically have done. It doesn't mean you provide less protection for these people. It doesn't mean you're less stringent with penalties or that the cleanup process is slower. Those people are still taxpayers and citizens whose health is at risk."
Activists against environmental injustice point to reports which have documented that industries target minority and low-income neighborhoods to build factories because they are considered less resistant and have less political prowess to challenge wealthy companies.
The National Law Journal released a series in 1992 documenting the racial divisions on how the U.S. government cleans up hazardous wastes and penalizes violators.
"White communities see faster action, better results and stiffer penalties than communities where blacks, Hispanics and other minorities live," The National Law Journal concluded.
Seventy-two percent of the neighborhoods around I-70 and east of I-25 are Latino and 42% are Spanish-speaking. Nineteen percent are white.
In 1991, Neighbors for a Toxic-Free Community blocked a move by Bio-Waste Inc. to place a medical waste incinerator at East 51st Avenue and York Street. It would have been built over a landfill that emits methane, residents charged.
John Smith, president of the Far Northeast Neighbors, Inc., which represents the racially-mixed community of Montbello and Green Valley Ranch, had been working with Rocky Mountain Arsenal, Shell Oil Co. and the EPA to clean up the arsenal.
Smith said communities simply aren't experienced to deal with large businesses.
"What's out there is not good for us health-wise," Smith said. "But in the last three years (businesses) have kept us appraised of what's going on. They have held meetings in our neighborhood. Prior, to that we had been ignored when they were talking to community organizations like those in Commerce City.”
The Superfund sites that straddle north Denver and south Adams County include:
· Rocky Mountain Arsenal in Adams County, cited for discharging pesticides, nerve gas products and other toxins into the ground water and soil at about 100 areas.
· Broderick Wood Products in Adams County, cited for releasing creosote in the soil.
· Woodbury Chemical Co. in Adams County, sited for discharging pesticides and solvents in the soil and drainage ditch.
· Sand Creek Industrial in Adams County, cited for releasing pesticides, solvents and heavy metals in the soils and groundwater.
· ASARCO Inc. in Denver's Globeville community, cited and sued by the state health department and residents. After a long legal battle ASARCO was found guilty of knowingly contaminating surrounding land with cadmium, arsenic and other heavy metals.
Neighbors for a Toxic-Free Community rallied Globeville residents to legally fight ASARCO, the metals processing factory. The residents won a $24 million settlement from ASARCO. The company is also spending $38 million to clean up the neighborhood.
Since the settlement ASARCO has cooperated with citizens to inform them of the status of the environmental cleanup.
The company also created the Globeville Information Center for residents. Granado said that before the settlement ASARCO did everything but cooperate.
"ASARCO kicked, screamed and fought all the way," Granado recalled.
In some cases, the blame for noise and air pollution falls on the government. Residents haven't forgotten that the Department of Transportation built I-70 through residential sections of northeast Denver, dividing neighborhoods.
Plans to expand east and westbound I-70 to four lanes are in the works, which would lead to the loss of more houses. The National Western Stock Show also is expanding.
"The majority of the residents who live here work," Granado said. "We're talking about people who work every day. Yet we are the expendable people."
© 1994 Rocky Mountain News