I believe all people have a right to live in a clean and healthy environment. This principle, also called environmental justice, means that along with “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness,” every American has a right to a healthy environment in which to live, learn, work and play.
Unfortunately, many communities across the nation, particularly low-income, minority, and tribal populations, live in unhealthy conditions because they are located near factories, ports, agricultural land, or are exposed to chemicals in the home. The understanding that environmental and public health impacts affect some communities more than others is what started the Environmental Justice movement in the 1990s. And, children in these communities are more vulnerable to environmental conditions than adults.
My interest in environmental justice began growing up in Houghton, a former mining town in the poor, rural, northern most part of Michigan. The mining industry there began in the 1890s and once was home to the largest copper milling operation in North America. But, long after the mining operations and jobs ceased, the heavy metals and chemicals from the mines persisted and some lands were designated as Brownfields and Superfund sites. The lakes and streams my friends and I played in as children could have been polluted with toxins we know are harmful to children, and my story is not unique.
Fortunately, many cleanup activities are underway or have been completed since I left home and my vision of a nation of clean, healthy communities is closer than ever. Communities, where people can live without the threat of environmental factors causing asthma and respiratory diseases, where everyone has the opportunity to work and earn a living wage in a job that supports a green economy, and where children can play and attend schools located in safe, healthy places that encourage learning. Luckily, I work for an EPA that shares that vision. In fact, environmental justice has become one of Administrator Lisa Jackson’s highest priorities.
I just shared my story of the environmental concerns where I grew up and my hope for a better tomorrow, now it’s your turn. Share your environmental justice stories by submitting either a 30 or 60 second public service message or a longer 3 to 5 minute informational video that captures the faces of the grassroots, the environmental justice stories that matter to you, the solutions that have made your community a better place to live, or tell us your vision of a sustainable, healthy future. The Faces of the Grassroots contest is your chance to put to video the realities you have experienced, the very stories that drive us at EPA to work harder. We can’t develop lasting solutions without you. Join the conversation!
For more info, visit: http://www.epa.gov/environmentaljustice
About the Author: Christine Guitar works in EPA’s Office of Environmental Justice and focuses on outreach and community involvement.