Maps tell stories of pollution, health impacts

“How many people live in communities burdened by multiple sources of pollution?”

That was a question Sarah Sharpe, director of Fresno Metro Ministry’s environmental health program, asked the approximately100 people who attended the Central California Environmental Justice Network conference last Saturday afternoon in Wasco.

Across the room, hands shot up in the air. People then listed off the sources of pollution in their San Joaquín Valley communities: superfund sites, incinerators, municipal waste facilities, slaughterhouses, diesel emissions, and hazardous waste sites.

Now, a new initiative is striving to formally document those multiple pollution sources, in order to prevent further pollution in these communities.

Through the San Joaquín Valley Cumulative Health Impacts Project, local environmental and health organizations are partnering with the UC Davis Center for Regional Change to map cumulative health impacts in socially vulnerable Valley communities.

The maps document the local pollution sources, and are layered with social data, like the percentage of young people without a high school degree, the percentage of people of color in the community, the percentage of people living below the federal poverty level, and the percentage of people who don’t speak English at home.

The resulting maps, which were revealed Saturday at the conference, prove what many community residents already know: San Joaquín Valley communities suffer from polluted air, dirty water and unsafe unhealthy environments, and lower-income communities of color are often hit hardest.

The maps can now be used to build community’s advocacy capacity, and ultimately influence regulatory decision-making, by the San Joaquín Valley Air Pollution Control District and other entities.

“This is a tool to document and support what you already know,” said Tara Zagofksy of UC Davis. She said the project utilized publicly available information about pollution and health issues, “to tell your stories in a different way.”

Check back here soon: I hope to post some of the maps on this blog!


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