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Poverty & pollution

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A recent, powerful series of articles in Environmental Health News marked the 30th anniversary of what many consider the birth of the environmental justice movement. EHN reporters visited low-income communities of color across the country, and found "a legacy of lingering problems and newly emerging threats."

Pollution, Poverty, People of Color” tells the compelling stories of seven communities that are battling the “triple whammy” of race, poverty and environmental contamination. PAN sees this struggle all too often, as we work with community partners to monitor pesticides in their air and water. All of the EHN stories are worth reading; we share brief summaries of just two of them below.

No beba el agua. Don’t drink the water.

Jessica Sanchez won’t even wash her baby in the tap water from her hometown of East Orosi, CA.

East Orosi is an unincorporated community, which means residents don’t have rights to the same water sources that cities and farmers use. So groundwater is the drinking source, and residents pay high rates for water that is unfit to drink. As EHN reports:

The struggle to find clean drinking water has become a way of life for the residents of East Orosi. But they’re not alone . . . One in 10 Californians in two major agricultural regions pays high rates for well water that’s laced with nitrates, pesticides and other pollutants.

In rural areas, this frequently means that residents must buy bottled water. Most of these residents are low-income and Latino.

East Orosi is part of Tulare County, where community members worked with Californians for Pesticide Reform (CPR) and PAN to win a 1/4 mile buffer zone for pesticide spraying around public schools back in 2008. The Community Water Center, a CPR partner group, is now working with East Orosi and other communities in the California's central valley to help them get access to clean water, which they consider a “basic human right.” You'll find EHN's in-depth story here.

A legacy of diabetes

Charles Frazier, a real estate agent, picked one of the plums growing on a tree nearby. But instead of eating it, he threw it back into the woods.

Residents of Anniston, AL no longer garden or eat fruit from the trees, for fear of ingesting PCBs that are contaminating the soil. As we reported recently here, families in West Anniston live daily with the toxic legacy created by a Monsanto factory in their town. PCBs were dumped in the soil for many years, with consequences that will last for decades. Some efforts have been made to clean up the mess Monsanto left behind — but not enough to help the residents like Frazier today.… some neighborhoods have the wrong complexion for protection. —Dr. Robert Bullard

Research has now linked the PCB exposure to the high rate of diabetes in the community, where nearly all of the members are African-American and half of them live in poverty. EHN's full story about West Anniston, Dirty Soil & Diabetes, Anniston's Toxic Legacy, describes the long term, devastating effects on the small community in the Appalachian foothills.

Fighting for healthier future

The consequences to human health from the daily exposures described in the EHN stories are serious. Communities living in poverty — many of them people of color — carry an unfair burden of environmental harms.

Long-term exposure to environmental contaminants — many of which persist for years and can act at surprisingly low doses — can have serious impacts on human health. Some of these effects may even last for generations.

In PAN's work with communities like the ones portrayed in the EHN stories, we work to help families, neighborhoods and communities win protections from the hazards posed by toxins in our environment. 

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