Environmental Racism. Small Towns. Huge Pollution

Environmental racism and Braddock, PA’s toxic footprint is emblematic of what it means to suffer environmental injustice in America. Nobody invested in the community’s future can afford to ignore it. Now, more than ever, residents must not just depend on documentaries, folklore, photography or stories about the situation. They must hold their elected officials accountable and press them to obtain the desired results and solutions that will curb the devastation that pose a clear and present danger to the lives of those already suffering in the community.

Environmental racism, the systemic location of toxic sites around the country in places that disproportionately impact communities of color, and the struggle for environmental justice is a key component to the survival of America’s vanishing Black communities and its future efforts to attract Black working-class residents, individuals, institutions and investment. Braddock, Pennsylvania is surely less high profile than Flint or Keystone XL. But, Braddock shows how the collocation of multiple sources of toxicity can have devastating public health impacts and hinder economic growth and stability.

Braddock would be a tough place to live even without the environmental racism and pollution it brings. Many of the buildings on the main avenue are vacant or boarded up. Most of the remaining businesses operate out of buildings that appear to be abandoned. And even more insulting is that much of the critical funding for redevelopment and everything else need to bring stability to the community is going to a few outsiders or urban pioneers as they are called.

Braddock has an inordinate number of polluters for a town of 2,200, and residents argue that local elected leaders often dodge their attempts to air their grievances. Many local community groups such as, “North Braddock Residents for Our future”, are advocating and doing what local elected officials and protection agencies should be doing. Unfortunately, local elected officials have ignored the pollution and environmental racism that has been plaguing our community for generations. Going forwards they need to be held accountable.

As recently as Oct 27, 2018 the Allegheny County Health Department posted on its Facebook page that DEP notified the Braddock Water Authority that its recent compliance testing done in June-September exceeded the Federal Lead and Copper rule action level of 15 parts per billion. The level of lead in the water was measured at 22.62 ppb, according to the Health Department.

Lead is a neurotoxin that can cause serious health problems, especially for pregnant women and young children. The department recommends people notify healthcare providers immediately to arrange for testing if they believe a child under 6 has been exposed to high levels of lead. Braddock customers can protect themselves by using an NSF-approved water filter and by letting water run two to three minutes before drinking and cooking. Bottled water should be used for infant formula and for use by pregnant women. Boiling water will not remove lead content. According to state and federal law, the water authority is now required to take steps to lower lead levels in its water supply.

In response Braddock’s Borough Council President & Braddock Water Authority board member,Tina Doose, made sure to make it clear that it’s the residents responsibility to have their internal plumbing checked:

“Let me start by saying the Water Authority replaced all mainline pipes in 1990-1991. There are no lead pipes in our distribution system. We also replaced every service line to the curb box which is the limit of our legal authority. Replacing the lines was a very costly underpinning and the Authority is still paying off that substantial investment, but it was the right thing to do. Although, some customers still have lead lines on their side of the curb box which is the property owner’s responsibility to replace. The Braddock Water Authority has done everything legally possible to eliminate lead from our water.

Any lead contamination reported by PaDEP would have come from the customer’s internal plumbing over which we have no control. With our most recent testing, we knew that there was a high chance lead would show up in these lines because the only households participating in this study were those that have residential lead/copper lines. Out of the 15 households test 3 had higher than acceptable lead levels.

In the past, Braddock Water Authority has always done its due diligence in regards to residential lines that still are lead or copper based. There has been consistent education and information about resources as it pertains to home owners responsibilities regarding changing out lead lines”.

There’s even more urgency for clean air projects and more sustained action by local elected officials considering that there’s another pollution threat headed for the region: Fracking. New Mexico–based Merrion Oil and Gas announced plans to develop six wells for hydraulic fracturing for natural gas on the Edgar Thomson steel mill site, taking advantage of the Marcellus Shale that runs through the Mon valley.

There are extreme high risks from fracking operations that could further pollute the air and water of Braddock and surrounding communities, hampering children’s cognitive, women’s reproductive abilities and a host of other known and unknown dangerous effects. A 2016 study linked exposures to the chemicals used for fracking to reproductive and developmental problems in female mice. Another study that year, based on an examination of the health of thousands of people living in Pennsylvania, found that the closer they lived to fracking operations the more likely they were to suffer from migraines, sinus infections and other symptoms. Groups like “North Braddock Residents for Our future” realized this was close enough to the community that they’d have to redouble their anti-fracking efforts.

Many residents feel all this environmental racism and pollution has been intentionally dumped in their backyard — and allowed to continue — because for the most part, they are Black, poor, uneducated and have little to NO help from local elected officials to help eradicate the problem. It’s a similar story across much of the country. For decades now, many Black communities say their towns have been targeted by polluting industries because residents have few resources to put up a fight, and local, state and federal agencies have largely sided with industry when locals have challenged polluters. Black residents in Braddock, Union Hill, Va.; North Birmingham, Ala.; Burke County and Jessup, Ga.; Waukegan, Ill., and many others have made similar accusations over the past several decades as the fight to survive, save their lives and communities have become more urgent.

Decades of research shows polluting industries frequently seek out Black, poor and rural communities to open shop. When you get a series or pattern of locating these things in one location, you must conclude that this is not accidental. When you examine every Black community or poor community in America some form of environmental racism is sure to be nearby. The EPA is supposed to be the Environmental Protection Agency, but they’re protecting the rich and special interest. And What are they and elected officials doing for those suffering? Absolutely Nothing!!

When residents and other Action groups file complaints, although they are hoping the federal government will be responsive to their concerns, that hope is built on not a shred of the history of the EPA but rather the aspiration of what local elected officials will or should be doing. Local council members, the mayor and other elected officials. The law does little to protect communities because it requires them to prove industries intentionally targeted them because of their Race. The EPA’s lack of enforcement gives state environmental agencies the impression the law doesn’t matter when it comes to Poor Black communities. The impression that their lives don’t matter.

Furthermore, the EPA is known for administrative delay in processing complaints, having an inadequate system for resolving complaints … and for timid (if not entirely lacking) enforcement. The EPA does not act when faced with environmental justice concerns until forced to do so. When they do act, they make easy choices and outsource any environmental justice responsibilities onto others. The EPA also has faced criticism on civil rights and humanitarian issues. An agency study published in April found that Black people are more burdened by air pollution than any other group, even when taking poverty into account. And the agency has taken years or even decades to respond to complaints when concerning Black and poor communities. these are the facts.

Enforcement and the actions of local elected officials don’t ever create the resolution necessary to halt the violations and remedy the concerns of the community. They tell residents to boil the water, but every time you want to drink water you’re not going to boil it. They tell residents that there’s nothing wrong. They tell residents to pick up and Move. Many residents can’t just up and move. Residents are worried about their children and grandchildren playing in the yard. They don’t want them to get infected or permanently damaged by the quality of the air, water or environment. They just want something done! They want their basic Human Rights to clean air and water. They are demanding more Action by their local elected officials and protection agencies.

Pollution in one community is easily ignored by people who live in other, more affluent community. People who are actually protected. But the effects can range far and wide. Water doesn’t stay still. Air doesn’t stay still. The people there in the community effected by the environmental racism, they feel the impact immediately, but what are the long-term effects for everybody else down the road. We must start demanding more from our local elected officials and protection agencies. The residents, their children and future generations are worth it. They deserve it! Unfortunately, it has become very clear that in these extremely toxic, divisive and difficult times that leadership, in transition, will have to come from the bottom. We, the people, have allowed ourselves to get into this dangerous situation by depending on, subservient, do nothing leadership on all levels. Now, it’s we the people, who will have to get ourselves back on the right path.Without Authentic humanity, equal justice, sincere compassion and love, peace will always be just a great illusion. Pleas Stand with us. Please visit and share links below





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