WEI’s East Metro EJEAC Project is actively establishing deeper collaborations, writing, convening EJEAC Steering Committee members, and working to obtain preliminary scientific research data in the East Metro. Though truly challenged by budget restraints, with the support of a Blue Cross Blue Shield sustainability grant, we have had some important successes:
1)U of MN Health Science Professor Matt Simcik joined with WEI to establish an on-going collaboration to do the long sought for scientific research data on potential PFC soil contamination for Hmong farmers in the East Metro. Working as a partner with the EJEAC Steering Committee, Simcik went with us to get soil and vegetation samples to establish more in-depth preliminary data needed for a USDA grant proposal which we were invited to jointly submit. In addition, Dr. Vincent Garry, U of M Professor Emeritus and long time WEI supporter, joined us for an on-site visit to provide test-site mapping and research advice. 2) We were invited to further develop our relationship with the MN Dept. of Agriculture in its work on immigrant farming issues. Suyapa Miranda, East Metro EJEAC’s Organizer/Coordinator is attending monthly breakfast get-togethers for various immigrant farming allies to network, partner, and share information. 3) Another highlight is our growing participation in St. Paul’s East Side Prosperity Campaign. WEI has been recruited to engage in its Community Health and Wellness Project because of our environmental justice background related to soil toxicology and urban farming. The East Side Prosperity Campaign envisions a multi-cultural and economically diverse East Side where individuals, families, businesses, institutions, and organizations prosper in positive relations with each other, the natural built environment, and the wider metro area. Their action plan includes four strategic vision areas: Community Building and Civic Engagement; Community Wealth and Prosperity; Community Education and Learning; and Community Health and Wellness. Eight initial projects have been identified and are being granted seed money for implementation: youth leadership, multicultural events, an economic engine to promote local buying and investments, a clean energy co-operative, a tutoring partnership, identifying community members to become community education teachers, bringing community gardening to scale, and access to health care and disease prevention. The Prosperity Campaign, originally funded by the Otto Bremer Foundation and developed as a program of East Side Neighborhood Development Company, began by meeting with individuals to assess their needs and match them with programs to help them accomplish their goals.
Hennepin County’s Minnehaha-Hiawatha Community Works project recently received a Community Action for a Renewed Environment (CARE) award of $100,000 from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
The CARE program aids communities in creating partnerships to reduce toxins in the local community. Hennepin County and community partners will use the grant to launch the Minnehaha-Hiawatha Corridor Environmental Collaboration, which will identify, prioritize and address environmental health risks.
"Investment in transit isn't just about transportation. It's about creating healthy and sustainable communities for residents," said Hennepin County Commissioner Peter McLaughlin, who represents the area. "This grant will help us design a healthier Hiawatha Corridor and guide us in building it."
Historically, the Minnehaha-Hiawatha corridor has served as a rail, highway, and utility services corridor, and remains a hub of industrial activity. The collaboration will consider all potential environmental risks along the corridor, including indoor/outdoor air quality, hazardous waste, lead paint, radon, water quality, and brownfields. Brownfields are sites whose reuse or redevelopment is hindered by the known or perceived presence of contamination, and are common in industrial areas.
The Women’s Environmental Institute and Longfellow Community Council will help lead the Minnehaha-Hiawatha Corridor Environmental Collaboration, which will include community groups, environmental and environmental justice organizations, and government agencies, whose work will focus on the geographic area encompassing the East Phillips and western Longfellow neighborhoods.
The information gathered as a result of this award will allow the county to:
•Help area residents and businesses gain an understanding of the major sources of exposure to toxic pollutants and environmental concerns in the corridor.
•Collect all existing cumulative environmental health data and present information on extent of existing risk.
•Collaborate with the community to prioritize risks for reduction.
•Develop an action plan for responding to the prioritized tasks.
•Build capacity with project collaborators to address these environmental issues.
The Minnehaha-Hiawatha Community Works is one of several projects underway through Hennepin County’s innovative Community Works program. Hennepin Community Works applies a corridor-oriented approach to infrastructure investment to enhance how the communities of Hennepin County work together to create good jobs, provide access to employment, and build the long-term value of communities.
The five basic principles of Community Works projects are:
•Stimulate economic development.
•Build bridges for effective planning and implementation.
•Maintain and improve natural systems.
•Strengthen communities through connections.
•Enhance the tax base.
Other Community Works projects include the Humboldt Greenway, Lowry Avenue Corridor and the Midtown Greenway.
WEI EMPOWERING and WORKING WITH COMMUNITIES DISPROPORTIONATELY EXPOSED TO ENVIRONMENTAL TOXINS
• The Phillips Neighborhood Environmental Justice Education and Advocacy Collaborative (Phillips EJEAC) is focused on researching the connection between known environmental toxins and public health problems in this low-income, Indigenous and community of color neighborhood in South Minneapolis. A toxic site mapping phase has been completed and a door-to-door health survey is being conducted by 10 neighborhood-based workers hired and trained by WEI. The community-based steering committee, Phillips Environmental Steering Committee Initiative ( PESCI) has grown to represent the broad base of community, including individuals and organizational stakeholders that have been with it for two years. PESCI developed the survey and is providing the remarkably strong and creative grass-roots leadership and guidance for this on-going project. WEI’s ultimate aim is to support and empower this community in its efforts to create a safe and healthy living environment for all of its residents, in particular its treasured children.
• WEI's PESCI also led the advocacy effort that created unprecedented and historically far-reaching public policy. The 2008 MN Legislature passed legislation which requires that a "cumulative health impact analysis" be done by the MN Pollution Control Agency before a polluting industry can be sited in the Phillips Neighborhood. The Neighborhood;s environmental injustice burdens were identified in detail and mapped out on a GIS format as the criteria to be consider. Residents testified and learned about policy-making processes. This victory created a new policy model to challenge environmental justice issues in the state and the U.S. WEI continues to receive inquiries from other states and communities seeking to replicate our success.
• After an initial 11-month organizing effort, WEI's East Metro EJEAC is now poised for the shift from strategic planning to implementation of a right-to-know initiative that will serve and be guided by Hmong, Latino, Indigenous and other East Side communities of color. WEI's initial collaboration with Hmong community leaders resulted in the creation of culturally appropriate educational materials about toxic environmental exposures and in well-attended environmental justice training sessions for the Hmong community, including clan leaders and youth participants. It is clear that East Metro resident's awareness about toxic exposures in their own East Metro urban neighborhoods is being raised and there is particular concern about the impact on children, pregnant women and elders The materials include substantive information about the recently revealed perfluroro-chemical (PFC) contamination about which those communities have received little or no culturally appropriate information from public health or pollution control agencies. A strong community-based steering committee has been created and is providing consistent leadership and guidance to WEI's principle investigator, Fardin Oliaei. WEI is seeking funding to hire a project coordinator as the collaboration expands and moves forward. Working with the East Side Neighborhood Economic Development Company;s Latino and Native American outreach workers, the project has begun to develop the culturally specific materials needed as these community representatives. have become part of the Steering Committee and its strategic plan for community outreach, education and civic engagement.
WEI's Climate Justice Collaboration with the Environmental Justice Advocates of MN (EJAM) initially focused on developing culturally appropriate community education materials and convenings to explore the disproportionate impact of global climate change on several local low- income, Indigenous and comunities of color. That has led to a strong focus on "green jobs" strategies aimed at ensuring these same communities will fairly share in benefits from the new "green energy development" opportunities. WEI's priority is rooted in our Phillips EJEAC comnunity base and as steering committee members of Winona LaDuke's "Green Jobs for Brown People" Working Group in Minnesota.
WEI is working to change public policy in a number of ways. In 2007 we are working with the Minnesota Environmental Partnership, to support legislation which will strengthen Minnesota's Community Right to Know Act and increase its enforcement. and will also continue to support "environmental justice mapping" efforts. This project includes two projects: state funding for environmental justice mapping and strengthening and better enforcement of community right to know laws.
(1) Environmental Justice Mapping
Environmental toxins disproportionately impact low income communities, Native American Indians, and communities of color. Women and children experience particular risk, especially during child-bearing years and early childhood when toxic exposure can cause life-altering damage. Despite federal designation of over 100 Superfund sites throughout the state, recurring air-pollution alerts in high density areas, serious ground water contamination, officially "impaired" rivers and lakes, and increasing evidence of possible environmentally-related diseases, Minnesota lags behind in collecting, examining and correlating environmental exposure data with health and disease data. GIS data on toxic sites at the MN Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) and toxic exposure data at the MN Department of Agriculture have not been correlated with relevant disease data at the MN Department of Health. As a result all Minnesotans lack access to this evaluation that disproportionately impacts vulnerable communities. WEI will re-introduce "Environmental Justice Mapping" legislation, also known as 'public health tracking".
(2)) Strengthen and Enforce Minnesota's Community Right to Know Law
The existing MN Community Right to Know Act is out-of date and difficult for communities to use. As federal law right-to-know laws are being weakened, state law requiring both the reporting of toxic releases and their potential health impacts need to be strengthened and better enforced, including protection of "whistle blowers".
THE PROBLEM: Information about toxic substances released into
Minnesota's environment has been under-reported and even suppressed by
public and private agencies responsible to inform residents about
potential exposures. Thousands of new chemicals and products are
being produced and introduced without adequate determination of
health-based standards, particularly as they impact children and
pregnant woman who are particularly vulnerable to serious and life-long
health impacts. Minnesota's community right-to-know exposure to
toxic substances law has not kept up with information about emerging
contaminants now being found in our homes, work places and the natural
environment. Enforcement of existing law is weak or
non-existent. Two current examples: 1) Perfluorochemicals
produced in Minnesota need to be more thoroughly investigated for
contamination of our ground and surface waters, land, and air; both
adult and child-based health standards need to be promulgated, and
clean-up needs to proceed with greater urgency. 2) Information on the
extent of arsenical pesticide contamination in several urban
neighborhoods needs to be made public for all potentially exposed
residents and health-risk assessments must be done that consider
impacts on children, pregnant women, including long-term chronic
exposure for both children and adults. WEI's legislation will
strengthen our communities' right-to know toxic exposure by expanding
toxic release and contamination reporting by public agencies and
private sources, better protect "whistle-blowers" in those agencies,
require more comprehensive investigation into the potential health
impacts caused by toxic exposures, and increase enforcement provisions
of the law.
WEI expects to be joined by organizations such as the Lutheran Coalition for Public Policy, Environmental Justice Advocates of MN, Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy, MN Center for Environmental Advocacy and Clean Water Action in this work. We all believe the legislature should create a stronger, more comprehensive Community Right-to-Know state law that empowers communities to better understand and protect their own environmental health and safety.
With initial grants from Headwaters Foundation for Justice, WEI created a project to clarify and make visible the link between toxic sites mapped by the MN Pollution Control Agency, MN Department of Agriculture and other state agencies concerning both what we know and what we need to know about health disparities experienced by individuals living near or on those sites.
No state agency is tracking those connections and existing disease registries have never tracked the environmental public health impacts on GIS coordinates in Minnesota. Our premise is that individuals and communites have a right-to-know these connections as a basic human right. Our method is to build a strong and skilled community base to research, inform, and help neighbors to organize for their own health and safety, environmental protection, and to change public policy to ensure remediation and prevention. Our goal today is to create the grass roots momentum needed to get appropriate government and private agencies that should be doing this work on this missing environmental justice tracking. We will conduct primary research and attempt to evaluate cumulative body impacts from the numerous toxins our low-income and communities of color often face. The EJEAC project targets the Phillips Neighborhood in Minneapolis, the East Side in St. Paul and potentially a tribal community. We hope to create a model for community-empowered environmental justice organizing and advocacy that can be useful regionally and nationally. This project is supported by the Bush Foundation, Bremer Foundation, and the Headwaters Foundation for Justice. Principal Investigator: Dr. Cecilia Martinez.
Progress report available in pdf.