Tuesday, September 26, 2006

True Environmental Justice Requires Nontoxic Methods of Production

I spoke to the press yesterday at the Environmental Justice for All Tour at Union High School in Endicott, New York. In Endicott, we learned about the work of local activists to get toxic spills of TCE and other chemicals at the IBM facility in Endicott cleaned up. 440 buildings in the village of Endicott have vapor intrusion remediation technologies installed to reduce exposure to volatile chemicals in the soil underneath the village.

I talked about the need for better and more just enforcement of our environmental laws to ensure better and faster clean ups of groundwater and soil contamination from chemical spills across the state, but said that won't be enough to stop the damaging health effects of using toxic chemicals to produce everyday products. What we have to do, is use nontoxic methods of industrial production so that no one is exposed to the damaging effects of toxic chemicals.

The environmental justice movement highlights a fundamental contradiction in our society. The products we use everyday--cars, home appliances, computers, almost every item we use, even clothes--are produced by processes that release toxic chemicals into our soil, our air and our water. When these products are disposed of, their waste is toxic, and the toxic chemicals in the waste leach into our soil, our air and our water. We want a clean environment, but we can't have a clean environment as long as these products continue to be produced and we continue to use them.

We absolutely need stop locating industrial production facilities and waste disposal facilities almost exclusively in minority and low-income neighborhoods, but a more just distribution of the toxic chemicals isn't the solution. How is it fair, how is it justice for anyone to be exposed to these toxic chemicals?

We have learned enough about the damaging health effects of these chemicals that we have to stop using them. We have to develop new means of production that are completely nontoxic. People are working on this and companies are showing that it can be done. The Interface Carpet Company, this country's largest carpet manufacturer, produces no toxic emissions and its products degrade in a completely nontoxic manner. People call this ecological design. It can be done and we need to do it now.

For more information about ecological design and the next industrial revolution, visit http://www.mbdc.com/c2c_home.htm. For more information about the Environmental Justice for All tour, visit http://www.ej4all.org/.

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