PSR-LA Coordinates the West Coast Leg of the Environmental Justice for All Tour
The 1961 Civil Rights Freedom Ride inspired the 2006 Environmental Justice for All Tour which called for changes in public policies and practices that expose people to toxic pollution and damage our environment. During the last week in September, three caravans carried activists, health researchers, scientists, and policymakers through communities in the Northeast, South, and West Coast, where people are suffering serious health effects associated with toxic pollution.
Physicians for Social Responsibility–Los Angeles (PSR-LA) was among the more than 70 environmental justice, social justice, public health, human rights, and workers’ rights groups that came together to make this unprecedented national tour a reality. PSR-LA’s Martha Dina Arguello coordinated the West Coast leg, which included tours of communities from West Oakland south to Calexico.
“Visiting all these communities, you see a direct correlation between lack of access to adequate healthcare and communities that have been put in harm’s way by exposure to industrial land use pollution,” noted Arguello.
Midway Village, for instance, is a small community in Daly City, California built on top of a contaminated site and lying on the fenceline of a PG&E plant. Cracks in the cement that has been poured to cap contaminated soil and deformed frogs discovered by children in the neighborhood belie what the agencies contend—that there is little health risk to the Midway residents. With no long-term health studies executed in this community, the residents have no scientific backing to support their concerns that the various health problems they experience are due to toxic exposure.
“It was clear from the stories that the lack of access to health care and the lack of knowledge of environmental health have been deeply damaging to the psyche of the residents,” said Arguello.
“There is a critical need for doctors to get more involved with environmental justice issues,” noted Arguello. “A number of communities are facing illness directly related to industrial pollution. But without the voice of doctors speaking out about the relation between symptoms and their environmental
causes, resident complaints are discredited by government regulators.”
The stories in these communities are many and oftentimes wrenching. A young man from the City of Maywood, whose daughter died of an asthma attack, has also seen cancer claim the lives of three of his coworkers who worked in close proximity to a polluting factory.
Without doctors posing questions and sharing observations about the link between environmental toxicity and increased rates of asthma, cancer and other diseases, residents in contaminated communities are left to fend for themselves Communities in the San Joaquin Valley were eloquent in their call for unity and more organizing efforts. As one speaker said, “Two of us cannot push this bus, but a lot more of us can push this bus all the way to Sacramento.”
We ask that you join us in pushing this bus so that we may one day eliminate the need for a national “toxic” tour.
For more detailed information on the history and logistics of the tour, visit www.ej4all.org.