Under orange skies
The fallout of locating minority public schools in polluted areas
Published: August 22, 2012
"Our findings underscore the need to expand the concept of environmental justice to include children as a vulnerable population. They are required to attend school, and have little or no say in where they live or go to school, which makes them particularly dependent on governmental policies to protect them from harm," the authors declare. "Moreover, as our findings show, children of color are disproportionately at risk."
The half-dozen or so people attending the presentation were from the most heavily polluted part of the metro region — the industry-heavy part of southwest Detroit, River Rouge and Ecorse.
As Anderson noted, Mohai was preaching to the choir.
They are activists who've long been engaged in a fight to make industry more accountable to the communities where they are located.
Mohai hopes that they will be able to work together in an effort to get the data and analysis in front of state and local officials so that they can use it when making decisions about where to place schools — and, also to help them decide which schools should be shuttered in districts like Detroit, where the student population continues to decline.
For Anderson, who grew up downriver, her work as an environmental justice advocate is more than just a job. It's intensely personal. At last week's presentation, she talked about what it was like to grow up surrounded by heavy industry:
"For us, normal was looking out the window and seeing an orange sky."
The quest for a new normal continues. But thanks to Mohai and his colleagues, they now have something they didn't possess before. It's not the knowledge that something wasn't right. Their eyes and lungs informed them of that.
What they have now is science, and it is clearly on their side.
"People in our communities have known that something's been wrong for a long time," says Anderson. "They've been saying it over and over for years. What's different now is that we have the data to support what we are saying."
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