Community leaders call on legislators to end environmental inequality at #LetUsBreathe justice town hall

Tuesday, May 5, 2020

Town hall speakers underscore dire circumstances facing at-risk communities during COVID-19 due to toxic air, compromised immune system, and lack of appropriate regulation from the State

MA At a town hall on Tuesday, community leaders raised concerns over the significant number of asthma cases in Massachusetts. They identified air pollution burdens, too little green public transit, and the absence of access to health care for millions of low-income people and communities of color as the main contributors. COVID-19 has exposed and magnified the situation, adding tragic burdens that further concentrate this crisis. As a part of the #LetUsBreathe campaign, the coalition demanded that the State take action to resolve these problems.

"As World Asthma Day approaches, I can't help but think of the deeply entrenched health inequities in our communities," Maria Belen Power, GreenRoots spokesperson, and Chelsea resident.

"As a mother of a 2-year old daughter with an early asthma diagnosis, I think of all of my neighbors and community members suffering from severe upper respiratory illnesses. Our community, a low income, and immigrant community has for too long disproportionately suffered from air pollution and environmental hazards, putting our lives at a higher risk. COVID-19 has starkly exposed those inequities. We deserve to live longer and healthier lives."

During the town hall, Representative Adrian Madaro, 1st Suffolk District (East Boston), emphasized the need to pass two environmental justice bills, H. 761/S. 464 and H. 826/S. 453.

"On World Asthma Day, I am especially proud to sponsor An act relative to environmental justice in the Commonwealth (H4264) to protect communities like East Boston from environmental hazards that lead to high rates of respiratory issues,” he said.

“Over the last few weeks, we have seen that communities shouldering a disproportionate share of pollution are among the hardest hit by COVID-19. These neighborhoods are often home to low-income populations and communities of color that have been historically excluded from decision-making. Now more than ever we must fight for policies and tools these communities need to protect public health and combat environmental injustice."

The Asthma and Allergies Foundation, a national organization, labeled Springfield, Worcester, and Chelsea as capitals. Other areas, such as Boston’s Chinatown, are high-traffic areas that produce dangerous air pollution.

Emily Huang, a youth member at the Chinese Progressive Association, shared her community’s challenges in Chinatown.

“I have friends who play volleyball in Reggie Wong near the highway. They find it difficult to play because of the surroundings and the air quality,” said Huang. “Many residents in Chinatown describe the air quality as ‘breathing in chemicals.’”

Health officials and researchers have said those most susceptible to the virus include people suffering from asthma.

"Based on data from Boston-area hospitals, COVID-19 is disproportionately affecting LatinX and Black populations in ways that are magnified by systemic racism," said Sunny Kung, a resident physician at a Harvard-affiliated hospital in Boston. "The people who work essential jobs, face insecure or crowded housing, and have limited ability to practice safe social distancing are more vulnerable, particularly when neighborhood pollution burdens are factored in."

"Communities that have been disproportionately exposed to air pollution, especially when combined with other factors like overcrowded housing or inadequate health care, will experience a more serious impact from COVID-19," said Jonathan Levy, Professor, and Chair of the Department of Environmental Health at the Boston University School of Public Health. "The burden of chronic illnesses leads to greater vulnerability, and these factors should be considered to protect the health of these hardest-hit communities."

Members of the coalition and local residents urged state legislators to take a comprehensive, long-term approach to the decades-long challenges faced by these communities.

“The bottom line is that real solutions to this crisis will start with emergency support, but not end there,” said Cindy Luppi, New England director of Clean Water Action. “Environmental justice programs must get serious and deliver on the promise of clean air investments like more clean public transit and local clean energy investments in the hardest-hit communities.”

 

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About the Green Justice Coalition

The Green Justice Coalition (GJC) is a partnership of community-based, environmental, and labor allies who lead campaigns that have a meaningful impact on working-class people and communities of color. Together, our members organize and advocate for a just transition to a sustainable economy that allows our communities to achieve environmental and economic justice. GreenJusticeCoalition.org

Vishakha Mathur
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