Source: Earthkeeping: "Toxic Racism"
In this video segment adapted from Earthkeeping: "Toxic Racism," follow the story of a Texas community that fought to receive government help to clean up a hazardous waste site. Hear from a reporter from the National Law Journal who explains some of the health effects of lead exposure and how after a cursory cleanup of a lead smelter site in West Dallas, the community was ignored, despite warnings from the Centers for Disease Control about elevated blood lead levels. Meet Luis Sepulveda, a community member who pursued investigations into the health of his community and organized the West Dallas Coalition for Environmental Justice, which eventually succeeded in having the site win Superfund status.
Just as you know your own body and can take responsibility for your own health, community members may have a better understanding of their own community's health than outside organizations do. By practicing their own epidemiology—the study of factors that affect the health of a population—a community can feel empowered to take action. Armed with an awareness of the health problems and environmental conditions of their own neighborhood, a community can take it upon themselves to get the help that is needed to improve their own environmental health.
Such was the case for a community in West Dallas, Texas, where the RSR Corporation operated a lead smelter from the 1930s until 1984. During this time, the company recovered lead from used batteries and, in the process, polluted the surrounding neighborhood. Emissions from the smelter dispersed lead (and other metals) into the environment. Lead particles can be deposited as dust onto surfaces and soil, and lead can eventually end up in water systems. When people are exposed to lead, by inhalation or ingestion, they can develop serious health problems; children are most at risk for neurological and developmental problems from lead poisoning.
After an initial cleanup when the smelter was shut down, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) declared the cleanup complete. However, it was obvious to at least one community member, Luis Sepulveda, that there were still environmental hazards present. As he witnessed his family members and neighbors suspiciously getting ill, he realized that the area needed to be reassessed by the government. He took it upon himself, with the help of another grassroots group, to organize the West Dallas Coalition for Environmental Justice, and to fight for recognition that the cleanup was not complete. The community collected dust samples, had the samples tested, and showed that there was indeed significant lead contamination in the environment. They then used a variety of tactics to get noticed, including writing letters, educating the community, attending city council meetings, and staging public protests and demonstrations.
In 1993, the community in West Dallas won their battle: the site of the former smelter was designated a Superfund site. Superfund is a government program that helps protect the environment and human health by cleaning up abandoned hazardous waste sites. Designation as a Superfund site means that the EPA requires responsible parties to perform the cleanup themselves or to reimburse the government for doing it. (If the responsible parties cannot pay, the cleanup is funded by the government.) In 2005, the cleanup activities at the RSR Superfund site were completed and it was ready for reuse and redevelopment. The opening of a new supermarket was one of the first successful markers of the area's rebirth.
Academic standards correlations on Teachers' Domain use the Achievement Standards Network (ASN) database of state and national standards, provided to NSDL projects courtesy of JES & Co.
We assign reference terms to each statement within a standards document and to each media resource, and correlations are based upon matches of these terms for a given grade band. If a particular standards document of interest to you is not displayed yet, it most likely has not yet been processed by ASN or by Teachers' Domain. We will be adding social studies and arts correlations over the coming year, and also will be increasing the specificity of alignment.