EJ Leading the Way

Why communities must initiate environmental research
 

By Ayanna King

African Americans living in the eastern corridor of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania have long been concerned about environmental health and justice issues such as transportation, pollution and health problems like asthma. In 2002 and 2003, the Pittsburgh  Transportation Equity Project (PTEP), a community-based  Initiative that seeks to empower African Americans, decided to conduct an air monitoring study near a local public school, Reizenstein Middle School, located a block away from the Port Authority bus garage. To determine local air quality, particularly the concentration of particulate matter, in the community, we sought the help of three groups: East End Neighborhood Forum, Group Against Smog and Air Pollution (GASP), and Chatham College toxicology students. GASP, a nonprofit citizen's group, trained the Chatham students to monitor the air in different sites on different days. The students also collected research on asthma and diesel particulate emissions.

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Science: More Harmful than Helpful?

As an Alaska Native, I spend my summers subsistence hunting and fishing in preparation for the long, cold winter months. It’s what my ancestors have been doing for centuries. But today, like many Native Alaskans, who make up 40 percent of all tribes in the United States, I have concerns about the safety of my traditional foods. I worry about the tumors, pus sacs and lesions I see on the moose, caribou and other animals. But because most tribal people rely on traditional foods for 80 percent of their food needs, we are sometimes forced to consume these foods despite our worries about possible contamination and disease.
 
The village elders I speak to in my travels as an environmental justice coordinator for Alaska Community Action on Toxics (ACAT) and the Indigenous Environmental Network say it did not used to be this way. But like the animals, the people are increasingly getting sick. Our community members suffer with cancers, diabetes, endometriosis, miscarriages, and low-birth-weight babies that were once unheard of. The environment is changing, too, and people attribute these changes to global warming. As the ice melts, traditional hunters are falling through the ice, resulting in a growing number of deaths and a further decrease in traditional food supplies.

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