Air monitoring equipment sits in a field below a development at Hunters Point Shipyard, where concerns linger about radioactive contamination. Kevin N. Hume/ S.F. Examiner

Green Space: Environmental groups fight for racial justice

Environmental justice activists have long fought some of these systemic acts of racial violence that are often less reported in the news

Thousands are coming together in San Francisco, and around the country, in support of a single message: black lives matter. Police brutality is only one example of a tragically broken system that targets people and communities based on skin color.

“What kills me is supposedly we have laws and rights in this country,” Dalila Adofo, a community organizer for the local environmental justice nonprofit, Greenaction for Health and Environmental Justice, told me. “But the overall mentality is that black and brown bodies are just less than. That’s how you get police killings, low-funded schools, treatment plants, pollution and toxins in these communities.”

Environmental justice activists, such as Adofo, have long fought some of these systemic acts of racial violence that are often less reported in the news. To encourage more San Franciscans to join them, I’m highlighting Adofo’s work in the historically black neighborhood of Bayview-Hunters Point, as well as Native American-led campaigns to protect salmon.

The Hunters Point Naval Shipyard was home to one of the country’s largest nuclear research sites for decades. Although the military closed the shipyard in 1994, concerns about radioactive and toxic contamination linger. In addition, the Southeast Sewage Treatment plant, underregulated and unregulated industries, such as a fat rendering plant and autobody shops, and traffic from two freeways pollutes the neighborhood’s air and undermines health.

Bayview-Hunters Point has some of The City’s highest rates of COVID-19 cases, and disproportionately higher rates of hospitalizations due to asthma, heart disease, diabetes and communicable disease.

At Greenaction, Adofo is working with neighborhood residents to install air quality monitors. Data collected from the monitors will be posted online at bvhp-ivan.org for the public to see. Community activists hope the information will encourage city and state officials to stop any more pollution from legally or illegally coming into the neighborhood, and maybe remove some of the existing sources.

“Community awareness is so important,” Adofo told me. “This is another tool to push toward a solution and make the environment safer for Bayview Hunters Point.”

Native American activists are also working for safer and healthier environments. As demonstrated by the brutal attacks on the Standing Rock Sioux and their allies during the Dakota Access Pipeline protests in North Dakota, “law enforcement” is often used to excuse violence. Even in California, where Gov. Gavin Newsom has apologized for historic treatment of Native Americans, tribal communities continue to face racial injustices.

“California needs to be better about policing and protecting black lives,” Regina Chichizola, a long-term advocate for tribal water rights and the policy director of Save California’s Salmon, told me. “It also needs to address the high number of missing and murdered indigeneous women, the health and freedom of religion for native people. Here, many religious practices of Native American people are based on the river and salmon.”

State and federal projects, which dam and divert water, threaten salmon populations and impact Native American religious practices, food security and health. Studies have linked a lack of salmon in Native Americans’ diets to higher levels of heart disease, diabetes and suicide.

In March, hundreds of tribal members from the Hoopa Valley, Yurok, Karuk, Pit River, Miwok and Winnemem Wintu Tribes came together to oppose the state’s Delta Tunnels Project. If approved, the project would take more Trinity River and Bay Delta water. Not only would this further decimate salmon populations, but it would also impact the people who depend on salmon for food.

“This year and last year there were hardly any salmon, which means people have much less food put away, ” Chichizola told me. “People have to risk leaving the reservation areas and driving two hours to find food, to areas that are hot spots for COVID-19. And we have no hospitals in our communities.”

San Franciscans who want to address racial injustice should support Chichizola and Adofo’s efforts. Consider donating to Greenaction and Save California Salmon, calling on city and state officials to address air pollution in Bayview-Hunters Point and voicing opposition to the Delta Tunnels Project. San Franciscans should also pressure The City’s Public Utilities Commission to reduce unnecessary water diversions from the Tuolumne River, which impacts salmon as well.

Robyn Purchia is an environmental attorney, environmental blogger and environmental activist who hikes, gardens and tree hugs in her spare time. She is a guest opinion columnist and her point of view is not necessarily that of the Examiner. Check her out at robynpurchia.com

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