Lisa Jackson, the nation’s first Black EPA administrator, has been traveling around America calling attention to the dirtiest part of her job: cleaning up toxic pollutants in Black communities across the country.
Jackson, who was appointed by President Barack Obama in 2009, is aggressively leading a government effort to rid thousands of abandoned properties of lethal contaminants that have been dumped in Black and minority neighborhoods over the years.
“We’re working to lay the groundwork for new policies and new initiatives that will make environmental justice part of everyday environmental action in this nation,” Jackson said.
As the administrator for the Environmental Protection Agency, Jackson has made promoting environmental justice and expanding the conversation on environmentalism one of the seven key priorities of her tenure at EPA.
So why is Jackson’s environmental crusade important? Because in Black communities across the country, children are breathing toxic fumes from deserted gas stations and old industrial sites that could lead to asthma and other serious respiratory diseases. Jackson also wants to provide black communities with more green space and public parks so black children will have a brighter — and safer — outlook on life.
The EPA announced that it has already awarded $80 million to communities in 40 states that will be used for cleanup and redevelopment of toxic properties that include abandoned gas stations, old textile mills, closed smelters, former dry cleaners, factories, warehouses, parking lots, former railroad switching yards, air strips, and bus facilities.
The EPA program is encouraging redevelopment of America’s estimated 450,000 abandoned and contaminated waste sites. These initiatives and jobs are designed for under-served Black and minority neighborhoods – places where environmental cleanups and new jobs are most needed. Jackson wants to make sure Black families are breathing clean air and drinking clean water.
The EPA’s efforts are making a difference.
In West Oakland, California, for example, city workers discovered that an abandoned one-acre scrap yard contained high concentrations of lead in the soil. Using $500,000 in EPA funds, the City of Oakland cleaned up the space and re-opened “Willow Park” in 2007 which featured a circus, face painting, basketball, and refreshments.
Today, the formerly abandoned park has been transformed into green space with game tables, a plaza for community gatherings and live performances, a basketball court, a picnic area with barbeque pits, open space, a children’s play area, landscaping, and a walking/jogging path — a place that serves a predominantly black community.
A healthy environment, Jackson said, can improve the quality of life for Black families today – and for generations to come.