Thursday, September 3, 2015

Environmental Injustice: unequal protection depending where you live

Many Environmental Justice populations are located in densely populated urban neighborhoods, in and around the state’s oldest industrial sites, while some are located in suburban and rural communities. These high-minority/low-income neighborhoods sometimes encompass only a small portion of the land area of the Commonwealth but they host, or are in close proximity to, many of the state’s contaminated and abandoned sites, regulated facilities, and sources of pollution.

Everybody has a right to clean water and clean air, and nobody has a right to degrade and destroy the environment. We're not talking here about little critters which few people see. We're talking about healthy communities where we can send our kids out to play, where we can live and bring up our families knowing that everybody's doing their part in using and disposing of toxic chemicals properly.

Environmental justice has been defined as the pursuit of equal justice and equal protection under the law for all environmental statutes and regulations without discrimination based on race, ethnicity, and /or socioeconomic status. This concept applies to governmental actions at all levels -- local, state and federal -- as well as private industry activities. There are actually three categories of environmental equity issues. Providing environmental justice goes beyond the stated definition and includes a guarantee of equal access to relief and meaningful community participation with government and industry decision-makers.

An example how the Environmental Justice issue applies to Framingham regarding the property at 350 Irving Street:

1. In 2008 Town Meeting with the support of Town Counsel and the Board of Selectmen voted to sell 350 Irving Street (20 acres) to NSTAR for $2 million in back taxes with the condition that this toxic site be cleaned up. None of this money was invested in the environmental justice neighborhood and no one followed up to see that the clean up was done despite the knowledge that it was a toxic superfund site.

2. Over the past 4 years there have been 14 spontaneous combustion fires in the mulch piles. This has taken the resources of our Fire Department, DPW and Police Departments but no one looked into correcting this problem despite resident complaints about acrid smoke and Irving Street traffic jams until a group of TMMs spoke up at meetings of the BOH, BOS and the ZBA.

3. Residents were never warned to stay off this toxic site.

4. Over a dozen businesses have been on this property without permits. Some never had them and other permits lapsed over 3 years ago. This issue involves both the ZBA and the Building Department.

5. There are wetlands on this property that drain into Beaver Dam Brook. There is a man-made berm that keeps pools of cyanide out of the brook but it was found to have been breached so our Conservation Department and Board of Health have been called upon to deal with this. Their resources were also needed to deal with pollution issues at the Woodrow Wilson School and Mary Dennison Park.

So much can be said but so far our environmental justice issues apply to these Framingham Governmental bodies: Town Meeting, Board of Health, Board of Selectmen, Town Counsel, Fire Department, Building Department, Police Department, Conservation Department and the ZBA. Despite all the time and resources expended, no progress has been made to reduce the disproportionate burden of Framingham's environmental pollution dating back to 1880s carried by the residents in the Environmental Justice neighborhoods of precincts 16, 17 and 18.

Map of 350 Irving Street Property owned by Eversource and rented to Landscape Depot