Beyond Toxics, a Eugene, Ore., nonprofit, just received $25,000 to help people who live in the West Eugene Industrial Corridor cope with asthma and with the air pollution that wafts through their neighborhoods.
“The community feels there is a significant problem with air quality and the health of their children,” said Lisa Arkin, speaking from her cell phone on her way to pick up the award Friday.
Beyond Toxics — which recently changed its name from the Oregon Toxics Alliance — is one of four in the Pacific Northwest to receive a U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Environmental Justice Small Grant . The EPA program has spent $23 million since 1994, funding 1,253 community-based programs that tackle environmental and public health issues.
Beyond Toxics and its partners already have conducted neighborhood surveys in the Bethel School District, asking people in more than 325 homes about their experiences with air pollution. Many of those people live near a lumber treatment plant or near a railroad or busy highway. Most said they have problems with diesel and chemical fumes; their eyes water and itch when they ride their bicycles or walk their dogs, Arkin said.
“Bethel School District has high asmatha rates,” Arkin said. “We’ve been working with the school nurse to collect information.”
About 14 percent of the students have asthma there, she said. The national rate for children is 10 percent, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
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Beyond Toxics offers asthma workshops linking health professionals with families.
The group also partners with Coastwide Laboratories to introduce people to nontoxic home cleaning products that will help them reduce toxic fumes from chemical-laden cleaning supplies that can trigger asthma attacks. Coastwide has been donating nontoxic cleaning supply kits for these events.
Another grant recipient plans to use some of its grant money to hold green cleaning parties. The Portland-based Josiah Hill III Clinic website hosts a “Create a Safe Home” page that lists recipes for cleaning product.
Community workshops have led to broader conversations and civic action, said Beyond Toxics’ Arkin. One mother who attended a Latino family night told the group her daughter becomes very ill when formaldehyde fumes from a plywood company blanket her neighborhood. People in the group complained that they didn’t know who to call to complain when they are sickened by air pollution. As a result of the conversation, Beyond Toxics worked with the Lane County Regional Air Protection Agency to develop kitchen magnets that carried the agency’s contact information in Spanish.
In addition to offering workshops, Beyond Toxics plans to use some of its grant money to conduct a “Toxic Tour,” which will guide industry leaders and politicians through the neighborhoods that are having health issues linked to air quality.
Arkin said she wants the people who have the power to make the air cleaner to know “what it’s like to walk in the path of the community.”
Pacific Northwest EPA Grant Recipients
The EPA is accepting applications for 2012 grants through February 2012.
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