EDF Health

Environmental Justice and community organizing: A conversation with Eric Ini of Michigan United

For the better part of the last decade, Eric Ini has worked with communities fighting for environmental justice. Human health is inextricably linked to the environment in which we live. And health disparities exacerbated by local pollutants are often tied to entrenched inequities and injustices. 

As a campaigner with Greenpeace in Africa’s Congo Basin, Eric helped local communities preserve rainforest sought for palm oil plantations. Last year, he joined Michigan United, drawn to the group’s work to protect the health of frontline communities after its members helped pressure Marathon Petroleum Corporation into paying $5 million to buy out residents in the predominantly black neighborhood of Boynton affected by years of pollution from the company’s refinery in southern Detroit. 

Now Michigan United’s environmental justice director, he is part of a coalition opposed to the state’s permitting of an Ajax Materials Corp. asphalt facility near Flint, Michigan and demanding action to protect public health. The state Department of Environment, Great Lakes and Energy (EGLE) granted the permit last year, despite overwhelming opposition and calls from the federal EPA to evaluate the cumulative impact on the surrounding community of emissions from the Ajax facility and the many industrial facilities already in the area. 

I sat down with Eric to hear more about his environmental justice efforts and the lessons he’s learned in his work with communities, governments, and companies on multiple continents.    Read More »

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EDF outlines steps for EPA to strengthen its plan to assess risks to frontline communities

Maria Doa, Senior Director, Chemicals Policy

This week Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) filed comments on EPA’s plan to assess the risks to frontline communities from nearby releases of chemicals to the air and water. The EPA’s proposal is an improvement from the previous administration, which failed to follow the requirements of the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) and consider air and water releases and other significant exposure pathways for residents in “fenceline” communities near manufacturing or disposal facilities.

As we made clear in our comments, however, the agency’s planned screening approach is too narrow in scope and would underestimate the real-world risks faced by many communities.

Residents of these frontline communities often face exposure from multiple sources or higher levels of exposure than the general population, or both combined. Failing to consider the full scope of these risks could hamper EPA’s ability to craft protective rules that reduce the risks those living near industrial facilities.

We outline several areas where EPA can strengthen its screening approach Read More »

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Flint area residents raise the bar on raising environmental justice concerns

Ugbaad Ali, Community Environmental Health Tom Graff Fellow

We all deserve to live in a healthy and vibrant community, yet many residents of Flint, Michigan, are overburdened by a lifetime of toxic exposures and environmental injustice. Recently, a coalition of environmental justice groups and community organizers in Flint used their combined power to organize against the siting of a new hot mix asphalt facility.

The Stop Ajax Asphalt Coalition was formed to protect neighboring communities from further environmental harm. The Coalition, which includes residents from Flint and Genesee Township, St. Francis Prayer Center, C.A.U.T.I.O.N, Environmental Transformation Movement of Flint, Flint Rising, Greater Holy Temple Church, Michigan United, R. L. Jones Community Outreach Center Campus, and Mi JustUs, submitted extensive comments and generated hundreds of public comments to contest the state’s permitting of a hot mixed asphalt facility by Ajax Materials Corp. near homes, schools, and parks.

Historically air permit decisions have been made in isolation, ignoring the cumulative impact from surrounding exposure sources. After hearing from the Coalition, the regional office of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) – which serves Michigan and five other states – weighed in with a letter that recommended Michigan’s Department of Environment, Great Lakes and Energy (EGLE) “conduct a cumulative analysis of the projected emissions from all emission units at the proposed facility, fugitive emissions from the proposed facility, and emissions from nearby industrial facilities, to provide a more complete assessment of the ambient air impacts of the proposed facility on this community.” It concluded that “because of the environmental conditions already facing this community, and the potential for disproportionate impacts, the siting of this facility may raise civil rights concerns.”

The U.S Department of Housing and Urban Development’s (HUD) regional office also  raised serious civil rights concerns in a letter to EGLE, highlighting that the proposed location is near two HUD-assisted communities housing low-income families of color – and expressing concern that EGLE failed to engage HUD on a decision that could impact HUD-assisted residents.

“This isn’t a defeat for the citizens of Flint. We’re just getting started.” – Anthony Paciorek, Michigan United (ABC News)

Despite the public comments and federal agency letters, EGLE approved the air permit, but with tightened requirements. The Coalition remains concerned about the siting of the facility and is committed to challenging the state to require additional measures to protect their community. Read More »

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Better data is critical to address health disparities in air pollution’s impacts

This post originally appeared on the EDF Global Clean Air Blog.

Ananya Roy, Senior Health Scientist, and Maria Harris, Environmental Epidemiologist 

The last several months have seen a wave of momentum in policies seeking toward advance environmental justice and equity through better data collection and mapping. In his first week in office, President Biden signed an executive order to initiate the development of a screening and mapping tool to identify disadvantaged communities with the goal of informing equitable decision making. And legislation introduced in the House of Representatives and Senate would launch a similar effort. This focus on data and mapping is critical.  

At EDF, we’ve worked with community and research partners to map air pollution at the block-by-block level, and found that hyperlocal data can reveal pollution hotspots and variability within cities and neighborhoods that would otherwise be missed. Building on this research, our latest work shows how the health impacts from air pollution can vary at a hyperlocal level and how using local level data can greatly improve our ability to identify health disparities and target action. Our findings illustrate why it is important to incorporate health information into such decision-making, as both pollution exposure and health vulnerability influence the health impacts of air pollution.

These insights have relevance not only for actions at the federal level, but also for cities and states across the country that are seeking to reduce air pollution and address health inequities.

Read More »

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How we make pollution more visible

Sarah Vogel, Ph.D.is Vice President for Health.

This post originally appeared on the Global Clean Air blog

Our new animated video shows how invisible pollution makes its way into our body.

When we’re outside, either walking or driving, we’re instinctively looking out for traffic. “Look both ways when you cross the street,” is advice drummed into most children.

But even so, we all have blind spots, and we’re not aware of the present danger polluting cars and trucks bring into our daily lives.

Our new video shows that although air pollution from vehicle exhaust is invisible, its damage to our health is visible and deadly.

EDF’s Global Clean Air Initiative has spent years researching air pollution in cities around the world. Our pioneering work with Google Earth Outreach, academic, community and government partners in Oakland, Houston and London shows that levels of air pollution vary much more widely than was previously known. In Oakland, we now know that levels of air pollution can vary by up to eight times within one city block. We’ve been working to visualize local pollution and its impacts in order to support targeted policies for cleaner air especially in those communities hardest hit by pollution. But we also recognized the need to make the experience of pollution more visible and more personal to each one of us as we walk down a city street.

Read More »

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Breathing wildfire smoke: A scientist mom’s concerns

This post originally appeared on EDF Voices

Maria Harris is an Environmental Epidemiologist.

Downtown Oakland, CA skyline obscured by wildfire smoke. Aug. 22, 2020 Photo by Jose Carlos Fajardo, Getty Images.

If the risks, hardships and anxiety of life during a pandemic were not enough, my fellow northern Californians are now facing another health crisis.

As I write this, hundreds of wildfires are burning across the state, among them two of the largest ever in California. Together, the fires have burned more than 1.4 million acres, destroyed 2,800 homes and buildings, killed eight people and forced thousands to evacuate their homes.

On top of the acute risks to lives and homes, residents across the state are suffering from highly polluted air as massive plumes of smoke fill the skies above our homes.

Children, seniors and those with lung disease are especially vulnerable

As a mom of two young kids, it’s been a tough couple weeks of anxiously monitoring air quality data and maps to determine if and when it might be safe to go outside, while seeking information on how to keep my family healthy.

As an environmental health scientist, I know that wildfire smoke has been linked to a range of negative health impacts, including asthma exacerbation, which can lead to emergency room visits and hospitalizations, along with increased rates of heart attacks and even death. Children and pregnant women, as well as those with heart disease or respiratory conditions like asthma, are particularly vulnerable to the health impacts of wildfire smoke.

Read More »

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