Northeastside residents voiced concerns about the many environmental problems they face at a recent meeting held by the Martindale-Brightwood Environmental Justice Collaborative (MBEJC).
Ironically, the issues that residents of Martindale-Brightwood found most important were the ones that could be the simplest to fix.
The purpose of the meeting was to allow anyone who works, lives or worships in the neighborhood to look at the different issues and assign each a rating based on its impact. MBEJC has been looking at the environmental problems with the help of a grant from the Environmental Protection Agency
Elizabeth Gore, chairperson for MBEJC, explained, “We wanted to let the neighbors identify environmental hazards that the community has encountered. Rather than us telling them, we wanted to let them tell us.”
Jodi Perras, executive director of Improving Kids’ Environment, a non-profit that cooperates with MBEJC, presented findings on 19 different hazards in terms of the health threat each poses and the likelihood of exposure. The greatest risks were lead paint, indoor pollutants such as asbestos, traffic pollution and lead in the soil.
Attendants were asked to rate each problem in three separate categories – intensity, psychological impact and level of community concern. The feedback will figure heavily into how the threats are prioritized and which will be focused on most heavily.
Interestingly, issues found less threatening by the overview were rated highly by residents. Code violations and illegal dumping tied for the highest resident rating although the overview found them relatively less threatening.
The psychological impact scores were also intriguing. Brownfields (housing areas once used for industry that may have contamination issues), for example, were rated higher than stray animals in terms of intensity, but lower in terms of psychological effects.
Some residents say this is because lower risk problems are more frustrating, because they are much easier to deal with. “I have an abandoned house on either side of mine,” said Roberta Sparks of North Hovey Street. “I mow them. They pay people to mow, but they come out and don’t do anything. There is dumping on both properties and I pick it up. The city came out and boarded one window and left the rest, and they borrowed my hammer to do that.”
People like Sparks are frustrated because it is much easier to mow a lawn, catch stray dogs or remove dumped trash than it is to replace entire lawns of contaminated soil or to hire a professional to strip and repaint a home with lead-based paint. Furthermore, these problems are generally not on a resident’s property but instead on abandoned lots or houses, making them beyond an individual’s control.
Identifying the most frustrating issues was part of the point of the meeting. The purpose of getting the EPA grant was to pinpoint the biggest problems in Martindale-Brightwood, but that is only half of the battle. MBEJC must also balance their findings with what is realistic at their July 29 prioritizing meeting.
For example, one of the top environmental threats in the neighborhood is traffic pollution. However, according to Perras, this is not likely to be a high priority. “With Martindale-Brightwood being so close to I-70 and Keystone, a lot of pollution comes from mobile sources,” she said. “But what can be done about it? Certainly, efforts can be made in mass transit and more efficient vehicles, but those changes are made at different levels. We have to focus on what is in our control. If we pick an issue that we don’t really have as much control over, then we won’t have much to show for it down the road. We want to make sure we pick something that we have success with.”
The good news is that, based on the track record of this type of EPA grant, residents should have hope that their community will be improved. For example, people in Marquette, Mich., successfully used a similar grant to reduce mercury levels in Lake Superior by 40 percent, and the rank and prioritize method has proven successful.