Lois Gibbs, Executive Director of the Center for Health, Environment & Justice and consultant with the Cross Currents Foundation, authored this post. She looks back at 35 years since the Love Canal neighborhood of Niagara Falls, NY’s fight for state, local and federal recognition and action on health problems caused by toxic chemical leakage from the landfill on which the neighborhood was built and forward to investments in the next grassroots movement on environmental health and justice.
No, I’m not talking about a shot of whiskey. I’m referring to the way change happens.
Thirty-five years ago at Love Canal, in Niagara Falls, NY, my working class community introduced the nation, and to some extent the world, a new understanding of how environmental chemicals adversely impact people’s health. Love Canal is a toxic waste dumpsite containing over 20,000 tons of chemicals, which leaked into the surrounding residential neighborhood where residents developed an alarming number of health problems that they believed were caused by chemicals leaking from the landfill. At the time, state health investigators repeatedly told residents that it was unlikely that their health problems are related to Love Canal since their exposures were much lower than workplace standards.
Yet the evidence was strong. One study found that 56% of the neighborhood children born in one stretch had birth defects. Not willing to accept that environmental chemicals were responsible, investigators concluded the birth defects were more likely caused by a “random clustering of genetically defected people.” Leaders at Love Canal refused to accept this explanation and organized protests, forums and accountability hearings, some targeting the Governor and even President Carter’s re-election campaign. Eventually, health investigators were forced to accept that chemicals from the leaking dumpsite did cause serious public health problems. In the wake of Love Canal came other communities like Woburn, MA where 28 children developed leukemia from drinking contaminated water. Ann Anderson, a mom with a sick child, knocked on doors, circulated a petition and followed the blue print of Love Canal until authorities acknowledged the connection between the well water and the childhood cancers.
Grassroots leaders and workers have amplified awareness of the impact of environmental chemicals on health. You see this clearly today with consumers demanding information on chemicals in products such as biphenol-A in baby products or PVC in children’s toys as workers did years earlier when they won the right-to-know.
Love Canal, Woburn and workers have all helped set the stage for new chemical policy and labeling reforms that are now moving at various levels of government. Those directly affected have always inspired, energized and led a broad range of supporters in successful movements throughout history, such as anti-slavery, women’s suffrage, labor rights and civil rights. A foundation I work with, CrossCurrents Foundation, has joined a number of other funders including members of HEFN that invests heavily in non-partisan civic participation knowing that change begins at the bottom where alliances are built.
Still the front line groups are the very groups within the health and environmental movement that are starved for resources. In a report last year, the National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy detailed how many environmental funders mainly support large, professionalized environmental organizations instead of grassroots, community-based groups heavily affected by environmental harm (Also see this recent blog post). Organizations with annual budgets greater than $5 million make up only 2% of all environmental groups, yet they receive more than 50% of all grants and donations. The report makes a profound argument that the current funding strategy is not working and that, without targeting philanthropy at the community level, the movement will not succeed.
Investing in building capacity at the local and state level can lead to the significant change needed to protect public health, the environment and our democracy. The time to make this investment is now.
This post was authored by Lauren Linville, HEFN’s Communications Associate.
It seems much longer than six months ago that Hurricane Sandy turned into Superstorm Sandy and devastated parts of New York and New Jersey. In the aftermath of the storm, philanthropy responded with millions of dollars for relief, recovery, and rebuilding.
Not surprisingly, funders based in New Jersey and New York have invested heavily in these efforts. The Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation in partnership with the Community Foundation of New Jersey quickly established a New Jersey Recovery Fund to address intermediate and long-range impacts from Sandy (See Margaret Waldock of the Dodge Foundation’s guest post). Within two weeks of the storm, the New York Community Trust made $500,000 in grants to disaster relief and has made $965,000 in grants since then for ongoing recovery and resiliency planning.
As philanthropy looks back at the last six months, and forward to what’s next for impacted communities, NGOs and experts have been sharing their lessons learned from Sandy. Here are some highlights of challenges, opportunities, and advice offered by groups in the field on recent calls hosted by the Center for Disaster Philanthropy and the Council of New Jersey Grantmakers.
Mold. Public officials have warned that mold in houses flooded by Sandy’s storm surge is a growing threat to public health, especially as temperatures rise this spring. The National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS) has provided advanced training for responders and is working with the Occupational Safety and Health Administration to evaluate exposure patterns since the storm. However, groups like the New Jersey Work Environment Council have requested funding for additional intensive trainings from the NIEHS for volunteers, workers, and homeowners.
Toxic exposures. Residents near some of New Jersey’s most contaminated places have expressed concern about toxic chemicals in storm water that flooded homes and parks. In Newark’s Ironbound neighborhood, community members worry that flood water laced with toxic sediment from the Passaic River Superfund site and chemicals from industrial zones could pose long-term health hazards.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) tested soil in Riverside Park, next to the Passaic River, for dioxin, mercury and PCBs. The agency concluded the soil had been contaminated during flooding, but that levels were not high enough to be considered a public health threat. The EPA plans to move forward with the Superfund site cleanup in beginning July 1, yet residents are concerned the plan will not prevent future contamination.
Permit waivers. Environmental and public health advocates in New Jersey are raising red flags about changes to the state’s permitting process. A new waiver allows homeowners and business owners planning to rebuild on waterfront or shoreline properties to skip a step of the permitting process requiring plan approval by state regulators. Opponents say the ruling reduces oversight and encourages development in flood- and storm surge-prone areas.
Flood maps and buyouts. For some homeowners and businesses, recovery and rebuilding have been put on hold as policymakers evaluate plans for updated flood maps and buyouts. New Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) flood maps, which hadn’t been updated since the 1980s, will be used to set flood insurance requirements that will likely mean many homes in New Jersey will have to be elevated, with costs depending on the zone in which the house is located. Some residents have suspended rebuilding efforts until the new maps are finalized. Others are lobbying FEMA to re-zone their properties to avoid costly elevation projects. Conversely, New York Governor Cuomo is offering incentives for homeowners to accept buyout offers from the state rather than wait for revised flood maps or insurance claims. In New Jersey, homeowners are still waiting for more details about buyout offers.
Strengthening overburdened populations. Many families on the road to recovery were some of the most overburdened populations before the storm. As funders help communities rebuild, Ana Baptista of the Ironbound Community Corporation in Newark notes it’s important to not exacerbate existing vulnerabilities. In the short-term, Ironbound and community groups are helping impacted residents get back on their feet with case management support to help families apply for FEMA assistance, weigh buyout options, and process insurance claims. Over the long-term, NGOs are advocating for these communities to be included in crafting climate change adaptation plans.
Convening and research. Ronna Brown, President of Philanthropy NY, and Nina Stack, President of the Council of New Jersey Grantmakers, agree that the philanthropic and NGO communities could play a key role in conversations around rebuilding. Brown suggested funders could act either as the convener or as a supporter of a convening, and she reported that some funders are supporting research into innovative ways to support communities in recovery and rebuilding.
Resist urge to get money out the door as quickly as possible. After a disaster there is usually an influx of funding and support that floods into foundations and organizations. Some groups working with Sandy funders are advising groups to think strategically about timing their support as recovery and rebuilding efforts may take years. They encourage foundations to take a measured approach to post-disaster giving to better identify gaps in support that might otherwise have gone unnoticed or addressed.
Invest in communication infrastructure. Funder affinity groups in New York and New Jersey cite existing regional networks of NGOs and foundations as key to communicating in the storm’s aftermath. They credit this type of infrastructure with making it possible for funders to set up conference calls quickly to coordinate relief efforts and share information. Groups also advise funders and NGOs to build connections with community members before a natural disaster or event happens.
Discuss disaster planning with your board. Does your board know what it would do if your community or region was struck by tragedy? Groups suggest funders discuss with their boards about disaster planning and response. Some questions they suggest for board consideration are: How would the foundation respond operationally? At what level (geographically and financially) would the foundation support relief efforts? What will happen to groups the foundation has supported for a long time, especially if they are not involved in disaster-related work? Funder affinity groups have also recommended that foundations not plan too much in advance of a disaster as conditions and needs evolve quickly.
The last time we saw Kim Wasserman Nieto was in Chicago at HEFN’s 2012 annual meeting. Wasserman, executive director of the Little Village Environmental Justice Organization (LVEJO), described her journey from new mother concerned about her infant son’s asthma into a life of community organizing for cleaner air, climate justice, and neighborhood open space.
Funders in the HEFN audience were impressed not only by LVEJO’s victories but also by Wasserman’s stories about how LVEJO negotiated a memorandum of understanding to improve relationships with its national partners.
This month we applauded Kim Wasserman for being one of 6 grassroots leaders to win a 2013 Goldman Environmental Prize, the world’s biggest award for grassroots environmental heroes. Several HEFN members and staff attended Goldman Prize events in Washington, DC, including Millie Buchanan of the Jessie Smith Noyes Foundation, a long-time funder of LVEJO.
Along with Wasserman, other 2013 Goldman winners also were recognized for groundbreaking work tackling interconnected problems of environmental degradation, community health concerns, and social injustice.
South African writer and environmental campaigner Jonathan Deal won the African prize for organizing to protect the Karoo — its lands, water and people — from gas development through hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking.”
Civil engineer Azzam Alwash won the Asia prize for restoration of conflict-devastated Iraqi marshes Alwash describes as the “life source for indigenous communities.”
Italian elementary school teacher Rossano Ercolini won the Europe prize for catalyzing a national movement against incineration and towards Zero Waste.
Aleta Baun, an indigenous Mollo, won the Islands and Island Nations prize for leading hundreds of West Timor villagers in successfully blocking marble mining of mountains from which the villagers derived food, medicine, dye and spiritual connection.
Colombian waste picker Nohra Padilla won the South & Central America prize for organizing to promote informal recyclers’ rights, safety, and recognition as valued parts of a national sustainable waste management system.
In these days when so much in the news is grim, the Goldman Prize’s videos about this year’s winners are an especially inspiring reminder of everyday heroes working around the world for a healthier, fairer future.
Ramtin Arablouei, HEFN’s Program Manager, authored this post. Ramtin joined HEFN in 2007 and staffs HEFN’s working group on fracking. You can read more of his writing here.
The word “fracking” has been all over the media over the last few years. Hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking”, is the technical shorthand for the process that extracts natural gas and oil from deep inside the earth. Fracking* has facilitated a boom in natural gas drilling, but it also comes with many risks and disadvantages. These risks have caused concern among many foundations that now are funding efforts to regulate or ban fracking. Why should you pay attention?
1) It’s coming to a town near you. According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration there are currently 36 states with “shale plays” that are being fracked or explored for possible fracking. Most states are not on the sidelines of this serious industrial activity. Is your state in the mix?
2) Fracking is making people sick. While research has focused on the environmental impacts, it’s clear that there are public health impacts as well. The pollution of air and water in communities near fracking sites has been documented in both anecdotal stories and studies. What’s happening? Disproportionate levels of asthma, cancers, frequent headaches, and nosebleeds have been reported in fracking communities. Why? For starters, fracking is excluded from portions of the Federal Clean Air and Water Acts and host of other federal and state regulations. In the past, inadequate oversight of energy industries has not gone well (see Exxon Valdez Oil Spill and Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill). And as one public health expert writes, “there is no fence line community when it comes to fracking.” This industrial activity is occurring in residential areas without significant buffers to protect families from pollution.
3) It’s making communities sick too. There is growing evidence about the health and environmental impacts of fracking, but not enough people are talking about the other social impacts. With a sudden increase in drilling comes an influx of itinerant workers. Often, these workers live in small enclaves which locals call “man camps.” Many localities are seeing dramatic increases in violence, drunk driving, drug use, theft, housing shortages, and prostitution in, and near, towns with active fracking. Outrageous? Read about what happened in Williston, North Dakota after fracking began there.
4) Fracking is eroding town rights. The state legislature of Pennsylvania usurped the power of local municipalities to set the laws to regulate drilling when they passed Act 13. The law, which takes away the power of local townships to regulate or tax fracking, is currently being challenged in the State Supreme Court. Some Republicans and Democrats believe that these provisions violate the Pennsylvania constitution. And similar laws have been proposed in New York. To learn more about the specifics of the law read this summary by the National Resources Defense Council.
5) It’s eroding homeowner’s rights too. In order to gain access to shale from landowners not interested in leasing their property, gas companies have taken advantage of “split estate” laws which allows companies to purchase the mineral rights to land and drill without the homeowner’s permission. Split estate laws were mostly passed during the industrial boom of the late 19th century, but they are being used now in many states to facilitate gas drilling. (Sound unbelievable? Read the story of Vince and Jeanne Rhea in this recent Reuters article.)
6) Fracking could be worse for climate change than coal. Many environmentalists have supported the expansion of hydraulic fracturing based on the assumption that gas is a lower-carbon alternative to coal or oil. While burning natural gas as a fuel does produce less carbon dioxide than coal and oil, it also emits large amounts of methane. There is scientific consensus that methane is a more destructive greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide. A recent Cornell University study concludes that methane leakage from fracking sites has the potential to be twice as damaging as greenhouse gas emissions from coal. There is more research to be done on this topic but we know one thing for sure: calling natural gas clean is an overstatement.
7) Fracking could be what’s for dinner. Many of the fracking wells in states like Pennsylvania are located in rural areas that are dotted with farms producing fruits, vegetables, dairy products, and meat for the surrounding areas. Contamination of local water sources have been a major problem in gas-rich areas like Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Alberta, Canada. A 2012 Cornell University study linked fracking wastewater with mortality in farm animals. Many cases of cattle death in farms near fracking sites have been reported in Pennsylvania. One of the largest food co-ops in the country, located in Brooklyn, NYC, has publicly stated they will not order food products from New York farms that are near fracking sites, expressing great fear of contaminated products.
Funders who are concerned about the impacts of fracking on health, environments and communities are working together at the Health & Environmental Funders Network Hydrofracking Working Group. To learn more, contact Ramtin Arablouei. To learn more about fracking, check out HEFN’s briefing, Drilling Deeper.
*Advocates have adopted the term “fracking” to refer to the entire process of unconventional gas extraction from exploration to processing. We are similarly adopting the term for this article.
A network like HEFN is only as smart, wise, connected, and experienced as its leadership. Trust me, it is no accident that the three new additions to HEFN’s national leadership embody those qualities!
This month HEFN is delighted to welcome Vanessa Daniel, Carolyn Fine Friedman, and David Fukuzawa onto the HEFN Steering Committee. These three funders represent a great mix of skills, geographies, grantmaking perspectives, and connections to other funder and donor groups. They each also are a great mix of brains, heart, and experience, in beautifully varied ways.
Vanessa Daniel is the Executive Director of the Oakland, California-based Groundswell Fund. Vanessa has worked for more than 18 years in social justice movements, including as a grantmaker, union and community organizer, researcher, and freelance journalist. She grew a Reproductive Justice Initiative at the Tides Foundation from $500,000 to $3 million in annual grantmaking, guiding its eventual transition out of Tides to become the Groundswell Fund. Under Vanessa’s leadership, the Groundswell Fund has helped to move over $8.6 million in new resources to grassroots organizing efforts led by women of color and youth organizations across the U.S. Vanessa currently serves on the Board of Directors of the Funders Network on Population, Reproductive Health and Rights, and East Bay Alliance for a Sustainable Economy, and on the steering committee for Bay Area Justice Funders Network.
Vanessa’s participation in HEFN was sparked by learning from her reproductive justice grantees about their concerns that environmental hazards are affecting reproductive health in their communities, as well as their interest in connecting across social justice movements.
Carolyn Fine Friedman is the Chair of the Fine Fund, based in Newton, MA. The Fund, created in 1997, supports organizations using complementary strategies to eliminate toxic chemicals from humans and the ecosystem. The Fund gives to organizations that conduct scientific research to detect and publicize the unintended harms of chemicals, as well as movement builders who align groups with diverse interests into a network to effectively advocate for public health and safety. And through grants for communications capacity and documentary films, the Fund hopes to amplify scientific findings and concerns about harm to the public, expecting that this movement has set the stage for a national debate on chemical policy and will lead to more protection from harm for all citizens.
Carolyn is a member of Rachel’s Network, women using philanthropy to enhance their environmental activism. In addition she serves on the boards of Coming Clean, the Northeast Wilderness Trust, the Institute for Health and the Global Environment and is a past board member of the New England Grassroots Environment Fund.
Carolyn’s recognition of our personal health stake in reducing toxic chemicals both triggered – and was deepened by — her participation in a 2006 biomonitoring study sponsored by Rachel’s Network and the Environmental Working Group.
David D. Fukuzawa is the Health Program Director of the Kresge Foundation, based in Detroit, Michigan. The Kresge Health Program seeks to reduce health disparities by promoting conditions and environments that lead to positive health outcomes for all. David has worked for more than 32 years in the Detroit area including as a Program Officer with a focus on child and adolescent health at the Skillman Foundation, as the founding director of the Asian American Center for Justice, and as the Human Needs Director at New Detroit, Inc., the nation’s first urban coalition, where, among other things, he fashioned New Detroit’s position against the state budget cuts in welfare in the early 90’s and helped craft its policy on health care reform. David just joined the board of Grantmakers In Health, is a founding member of the Health and Housing Funders Forum, and recently served as board chair of Grantmakers for Children, Youth and Families.
David’s engagement in environmental health and justice issues comes partly from his evaluations of the costs and benefits of improving daily environments as a way of improving health outcomes for children. And partly from a moral compass which led him first to earn a Masters of Divinity in preparation for the priesthood, and eventually into a different vocation of service to vulnerable populations through grantmaking.
HEFN is grateful for the service of Vanessa, Carolyn, David, and the other fabulous funder leaders on its Steering Committee. More brains, more heart, more experience to help philanthropy maximize its impact on environmental health and environmental justice!