Chevron, health and the environment: no longer just a local fight

Friday, September 10, 2010

By Dana Ginn Paredes

When I was in college (learning about politics, economics - and justice on the side) I joined a group of students on a tour through Richmond neighborhoods bordering the Chevron oil refinery to learn about the community’s fight to hold the company accountable for its harmful affect on the residents’ health and the environment. I was struck by how close homes, schools and play yards were to Chevron, and how homes appeared to practically disappear within its shadow. As part of the tour, we also got to hear stories from local residents. I remember one woman speaking and pointing to a home that looked vacant. She said that a family had lived there for years growing and eating their own fruits and vegetables because that was all they could afford. Then over time, each family member became seriously ill.

I don’t remember what she said became of this family… only that from their experience, everyone in the neighborhood stopped eating the fruits and vegetables from their own backyards because there was something wrong with soil. I remember being baffled, “What? How can soil go bad?”

The battle is still raging on. And in spite of its shear size, bizzillions of dollars, political supporters and promise of jobs and energy, the oil giant has not been able to overshadow the stories and struggle of families and community groups seeking to hold Chevron accountable to local communities and environmental laws.

Today, I know a lot more about how harmful toxins can enter our bodies and our environments… more than I ever thought I would need to know. Today, it is not uncommon to hear of new research that shows how certain plastics and chemicals are harmful to our health, especially to women and children; and how there is a new bill proposing a ban or new regulation on harmful products and toxins. Times are changing. Our environment is changing. People and politicians are learning more and more how various industries, business practices and products affect consumers, “fence-line” communities, the people that work there… and now… how our families live, work and learn contribute to our region’s/our state’s level of carbon emissions, and thus climate change.

The fight at Chevron Richmond started as a fight led by local residents against an oil giant. Today, I believe it is fight that affects all of us in one way or another. Check out this recent article in the Oakland Tribune that brings these issues together.

For more information on the communities involved in this campaign and how to get involved, check out Asian Pacific Environmental Network, Communities for a Better Environment and Urban Habitat.

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