A group of CARE Scouts took their cause to Richmond on Wednesday (Dec. 2) where they hand-delivered over 1,000 petitions to the Virginia Secretary of Natural Resources Molly Ward. The Scouts are area children ages 6 through 12 working to bring awareness to the negative impacts of air pollution on asthma.
The youth group was joined by supporters of the Southeast CARE Coalition.
“The children are very excited to make the journey and to work towards cleaning up the air in their community. We are allowing them to lead the way because they know the impact that air pollution has on respiratory disease which is prominent here,” said Angela Harris, founder of All from One, Inc., a youth focused mentoring group.
The Southeast CARE Coalition is a community based environmental justice initiative of the Greater Southeast Development Corporation. At the beginning of the summer, the coalition launched a local campaign to address air pollution concerns and to reduce toxic air emissions especially those from heavy traffic, ports, coal terminals and industry.
The Southeast CARE Coalition has collected petitions in favor of establishing a community-based air monitoring program in which citizen science is included to get a more realistic picture of local air quality and of establishing an official air monitoring station in the Southeast Community recognized by the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ).
“Understanding air quality and its effects on the health of residents in the Southeast Community is complicated due to the numerous sources of toxic air emissions and the constitutes of such emissions. As a fence-line community located next to multiple sources of toxic air releases, the lack of community-specific air quality data is discouraging and makes understanding health implications difficult.” said Dr. Erica Holloman, Program Coordinator of the Southeast CARE Coalition. However, air monitoring is viewed as the first step towards achieving clean air by obtaining accurate measurements of pollutants such as volatile organic carbons (VOCs), heavy metals, diesel emissions, toxics and particulate matter (PM).
Achievable Dream Academy, ranked by USA Today as one of the worst schools in the country in terms of exposure to toxic air, is an elementary school located within the Southeast Community. According to Julia Andrews, RN, Achievable Dreams Academy School Nurse “The main chronic disease in the school is asthma. There are 700 students enrolled, 116 of them or 17% have a medical diagnosis of asthma and 75 students have their rescue inhaler here at school. I’ve seen firsthand how children are impacted. I see them coming in after playing coughing, wheezing and sometimes you can see their muscles contracting trying to pull the air in. Air pollution especially particulate matter worsens asthma. Unfortunately, poverty and lack of transportation here in the community also act to complicate asthma treatment and management.”
More than 25 churches, businesses and community organizations have signed a letter of support for an air monitor and community-based air monitoring system including Gethsemane Baptist, Universalist Unitarian Fellowship of the Peninsula, Moms Clean Air Force, Community Involved Seniors, Pearlie’s Restaurant and Guibuka’s Variety Store.
“I was shocked to find out that the area did not have any monitoring system. From a business perspective, pollution impacts people and potential customers wanting to come into the community whether it’s unsightly, unhealthy or a bad smell. It makes people want to leave. We should put in place initiatives to reduce air pollution. We need an air monitoring system to improve the air quality,” said Guibuka Waheed, Co-Owner of Guibuka’s Variety Store.
“It is not right for minority or poor communities to be exposed to higher levels of pollutants than wealthier communities. It is the moral duty of religious communities to speak out on behalf of our brothers and sisters who are in harm’s way due to the actions or inactions of others – so, we are speaking out. Clean, pollution-free air is a God-given right that should be guaranteed by our government agencies,” said Dr. Robin van Tine, Green Faith Fellow, speaking on behalf of Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of the Peninsula.
As of 2013, 72 percent of the toxic air emissions in Newport News occurred in the Southeast Community. To remedy this situation and reduce the pollution, the Southeast CARE Coalition has been pressing the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality as well as Secretary of Natural Resources Molly Ward to designate an official State and Local Air Monitoring Site (SLAMS) as well as National Air Toxics Trends Station (NATTS) in Newport News, and to also assist with the development of a community-based air monitoring program to further assess air quality and to determine the communityís level of exposure to toxic pollution from nearby industry, diesel and car exhaust from Interstate 664 as well as nearby ports.
The US Environmental Protection Agencyís Toxic Release Inventory data for 2013 (the most recent year available) showed that Huntington Ingalls (Newport News Shipyard) reported an additional 40,000 pounds of toxic air pollution, a 31 percent increase in toxic air emissions over 2012.