Academic journal article International Journal of Child Health and Human Development

Hidden in Plain Sight: Community Knowledge, Attitudes and Action Plans to Remediate Brownfields in a Suburban Community

Academic journal article International Journal of Child Health and Human Development

Hidden in Plain Sight: Community Knowledge, Attitudes and Action Plans to Remediate Brownfields in a Suburban Community

Article excerpt


Environmental health disparities and displacement disproportionately affect lower-income communities, and have traditionally been targets for state agencies and corporate polluters (1). The various types of pollution have been groundwater, air and surface water pollution and have included urban, rural, and suburban areas (such cases as Love Canal in upstate NY, Cancer Alley in New Orleans, and the North River Sewage Treatment Plant in West Harlem, NY encompass varying types of pollution in differently populated areas). Brownfields are a particular form of environmental pollution. A brownfield site is a "real property, the expansion, redevelopment, or reuse of which may be complicated by the presence or potential presence of a hazardous substance, pollutant, or contaminant (2).

Community awareness of these practices have led to an environmental justice movement over the past two decades that has empowered community members to resist the sources of pollution and to work to remediate the impacted areas (1, 3-4). Unfortunately, environmental health injustices against disenfranchised communities frequently exist. In order for these communities to address their issues to the appropriate environmental agencies and to address the companies and businesses that may have caused health disparities, community knowledge and consent must be established. Indeed a key component to organizing low-income communities is to first address the lack of knowledge of environmental justice health issues and then rally support among the community to build a sense of advocacy among those affected. In environmental justice cases, community action and advocacy is the best way to begin campaigning against environmental inequalities (5-7).

Examples of approaches to environmental justice advocacy have included the WE ACT project for Clean Air that examines community stressors and susceptibility in urban asthma rates and the Sierra Club's work on air and water pollution in the River Rouge area of Detroit Michigan where the population of those heavily affected is 94% African-American (AA) with an annual household income around $18,000 (8). Most of these environmental justice advocacy research projects have focused on urban and rural areas, and suburban sites are often overlooked as places where there may be environmental health disparities. This study focuses on a low-income suburban area and the process of assessing community knowledge and attitudes about local Brownfields.

Site background information

Roosevelt is a one square mile, unincorporated hamlet in Nassau County, Long Island, New York (9) and Nassau County has the 13th highest median income in the United States (10). Nassau County is also the tenth most segregated metropolitan region in the United States, and the only suburban area (10). Roosevelt's demographics are 63% African American, 34% Hispanic and 14% white (11). The median income in Roosevelt is $65,000 compared to $95,000 of Nassau County (11). The Roosevelt school district is the only district that has had the New York State Department of Education take full control of since 2002. Roosevelt also has a history of environmental issues, including a Brownfield site, formerly a dry cleaning facility that was remediated in 2006. We focused on the Brownfield property located at 20 West Centennial Avenue because of it's close proximity to the Centennial Avenue Elementary School and to residential homes. This site is adjacent to family homes and residents who walk by it every day, a potentially hazardous property hidden in plain sight in the middle of a small community. The property is currently leased to a woodworking company, which also raises additional concerns for those who are working in and around the site every day. Also, 20 West Centennial is adjacent to a property that has been allowed by the school district to park buses there. It is privately owned by an organization called the West Centennial Group. …

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