ECO-Action Completes Green Infrastructure at AUC Project

ECO-Action recently completed a project that established a collaborative, educational framework for Green Infrastructure (GI) within the Atlanta University Center (AUC).  From June 2014 through August 2016, through workshops, field trips, community forums, and classroom instruction, more than 350 students contributed to plans to alleviate pervasive storm water flooding around AUC.

flooding-boone-and-nj-ave-2015-croppedWith the assistance of its partners, ECO-Action helped students integrate Green Infrastructure practices into a series of substantive recommendations. The two-year effort culminated in the work of 27 students who developed nine Conceptual Plans to capture storm water from AUC campuses as well as surrounding properties that drain onto the AUC campuses.

Students were able to use this headwater of Proctor Creek as a living laboratory for development of best practices such as water testing, GIS analyses, and site mapping for green infrastructure. The initiative was funded primarily through EPA’s Urban Waters Program, which seeks to “help local residents and their organizations, particularly those in under-served communities, restore their urban waters in ways that also benefit community and economic revitalization.”

forum-2-768x1024“Being involved in planning and hopefully implementing GI throughout my community has been such an insightful experience.” said Spelman student Sydney Hubbert. “I feel I am able to give back to my community in a way that will last generations and possibly spur even more GI methods throughout the community, nation, and world.”

Early in their research, students documented the adverse effects that combined sewage – storm water mixed with raw sewage – flooding downhill from the AUC campuses has on public health in the lower elevation residential communities and on water quality in Proctor Creek.  They took it as a moral responsibility to develop capacity relief for the combined sewer system to reduce the adverse impacts that flooding from the AUC campuses has on downstream public health.

In line with the notion that nature can help make cities healthier, more resilient and more appealing places to live, the students also recognized that introducing storm water storage greenways to the AUC campuses could improve aesthetics and provide passive recreation opportunities and play spaces.  One Conceptual Plan notes that, “running water releases negative ions into its surroundings which mediate mood and improve creativity….”  Other research states, “walking in nature changes brain chemistry in a positive way, in such a way as to reduce violence and improve attitude.”

fieldwork-1-360x640“We developed plans that not just mitigated, retained, and detained storm water, but we envisioned a future community and environment that is sustainable, healthy, and progressive.” said student Sederra Ross of Clark Atlanta University.

Students recommended that their Conceptual Plans be considered for implementation not only to improve livability at AUC, but also to ensure improved living conditions for all affected downstream communities.  Additional long-term benefits the students expect include increased systems resiliency, cleaner air and water, collection of water for reuse and for drought, and a way to lessen the impact of climate change.

The students noted that implementation of their Conceptual Plans will require having someone to nurture collaboration and cooperation among the private and public stakeholders.  Once the stakeholders agree to move forward, more complex hydrological analysis will be necessary along with cost/benefit analyses.

These issues, and others in Vine City, English Avenue, other metro-Atlanta communities and other rural Georgia communities are far from concluded.  While we celebrate this success, we recommit to standing strong together.

Green Infrastructure Conference

Come join us on April 21st for the fourth in a series of events highlighting green infrastructure options at the colleges of the Atlanta University Center.  In addition to increasing public awareness of green infrastructure and presenting student-developed conceptual plans to capture stormwater at the AUC center, we also hope the conference will encourage community and AUC leaders to leverage their resources to transform these stormwater conceptual plans into “shovel ready designs.”

The conference will include student project exhibitions, a short film, plenary sessions, workshops and panel discussions.  The keynote speaker will be Nathaniel Smith, Founder and Chief Equity Officer of the Partnership for Southern Equity and Morehouse College graduate.

The conference will also feature a hands-on, green infrastructure simulation, the Green Infrastructure Lab.  If you are interested in attending the Lab, please sign up for both a Lab and a General Session ticket. Seating is limited for this session.

Students, Proctor Creek and greater Atlanta community members, environmentally-focused non profit partners and local or federal government organizations are welcome to attend this event. Admission is free. Continental breakfast and lunch will be provided to participants who register.

The Green Infrastructure Initiative at the Atlanta University Center project is funded by the United States Environmental Protection Agency’s Urban Waters Small Grants program.

Register Now

Keeping Children Safe from Dangers in Toys and Games

By Yolanda Whyte, MD,
Environmental Community Action Inc. (ECO-Action) Board Member

Playing with toys and games are one of the most enjoyable ways to socially engage children of all ages. Toys stimulate their visual and physical senses and, most importantly, their imagination. As a pediatrician, I can assess a child’s stage of development and some aspects of their mental health by carefully observing how they play and interact with toys. However, in my career, I’ve seen numerous health and safety risks that toys sometimes pose to our children.

African American baby playing with the letter A, 6 months old

Baby playing with the letter A, 6 months old

Younger children risk being exposed to dangerous plasticizers, heavy metals like lead and mercury, and other toxic chemicals added to toys and children’s products. Some toys have been found to contain dangerous levels of toxic chemicals that far exceed safety standards set by the Consumer Products Safety Commission (CPSC) and the Environmental Protection Agency. Since babies explore through touching and mouthing, especially when teething, they can ingest these toxins or absorb them through skin. Once children are exposed to these toxins they can build up over time and impair their development, organ function, ability to learn and overall health.  A number of consumer reports from health and advocacy groups have alerted us to this problem and its extent.  Here are just a few examples:

  1. Public Interest Research Group’s Trouble in Toyland report found over ten times the legal limit of chromium in a pencil case and over 20 times the legal limit in a slinky toy. Chromium can cause allergic reactions, rashes, ulcers and cancer. A jump rope was found to containing over 10 times the legal limit of phthalates which are linked to birth defects, hormone disruptions, early puberty and cancer
  2. The Campaign for Healthy Solution’s A Day Late and a Dollar Short report on dollar store products found children’s earrings to contain over 65 times the legal limit for lead, which can damage the brain and nervous system, increase the risk of cancer, preterm birth and birth defects. More than 80% of the products tested contained phthalates, antimony, chromium other toxic chemicals.
  3. The New York League of Conservation Voters’ Toxic Toys in Erie County report identified arsenic, cadmium, antimony, lead, cobalt and mercury in their testing of several children’s products sold in popular chain stores like Target, Macy’s, Party City and the Dollar Store.
  4. The Environmental Working Group also released a Tests Find Asbestos in Kids’ Crayons, Crime Scene Kits report where asbestos fibers, which are linked to lung disease and cancer, were detected in children’s crayons and fingerprint sets.
  5. In a coalition report from Washington Toxics, Safer Chemicals Healthy Families and Safer States report, retailers like Walmart, Target, Nike and Toys R Us reported on the presence of formaldehyde, phthalates, flame retardants, BPA, parabens and industrial solvents in children’s dolls, toys, toy cars, clothes, car seats, personal care products and other children’s products.

The toxicity of some chemicals is synergized when they are combined, and the effect on tissues and organs is more pronounced if the exposure occurs during a critical stage of child development.  These chemicals now commonly appear in biomonitoring studies of blood, urine and even the umbilical cord blood of newborns.  The rate of pediatric cancers, autism, birth defects have all increased over the past decades, urging for the immediate need to limit our exposure to toxic chemicals, as the single-most important prevention strategy.  A commentary entitled Evidence from Toxicology: The Most Essential Science for Prevention published in this month’s Environmental Health Perspectives adds that adopting principles in medicine and public health that are based on the evidence of toxicological studies has the benefit of reducing delays and costs for researchers, consumers, regulators and industry stakeholders.  This suggests a need for stronger protections by both state and federal lawmakers, and also for adequate resources for effective enforcement of environmental rules.

A very important federal bill, designed to regulate some of the chemicals that are allowed in our products, including toys, is now expected to be updated for the first time in four decades.  While the U.S. House and Senate passed their versions of the bill modernizing the Toxic Substances Control Act, loopholes still exist that allow many toxins to enter consumer markets and deny states the right to protect themselves with a stronger set of protections, when federal policies are inadequate.  Eco-Action is part of the Safer Chemicals, Healthy Families coalition, which has over 400 members, and is working to iron out these flaws in the final bill to be presented to President Obama and signed into law.

ECO-Action is committed to educating and protecting our local community on environmental and safety concerns such as these. We are dedicated to improving the health and quality of life for our children and families. Please contact us at www.eco-act.org for more information and how you can support a campaign for precautionary policy to prevent exposure to hazardous substances to Children and their families. Also, check out the following resources:

National Poison Control Center (800) 222-1212 or www.poison.org

National Battery Ingestion Hotline (202) 625-3333 or
http://www.poison.org/battery

www.recalls.gov for an online compilation of US Recalls

Lunching and Learning to Revitalize Proctor Creek and Nearby Communities

What’s going on at Proctor Creek? What efforts are ongoing there? How can non profits, agencies and the City of Atlanta work together to revitalize the Creek along with the residents who live near it?

Photo courtesy Ivory Young

Photo courtesy Ivory Young

Community members, Proctor Creek supporters, Fulton County and City of Atlanta staff participated in a City of Atlanta Lunch and Learn sponsored by District 3 Councilmember Ivory Young on Friday October 30th to hear more about just this At the event, held in the Old Council Chambers of City, Hall, representatives of ECO-Action, the Community Improvement Association, the Conservation Fund, Proctor Creek Stewardship Council and the West Atlanta Watershed Alliance provided updates on the wide range of ongoing initiatives in the Proctor Creek Watershed. By providing a forum where community organizations might inform City government officials of these initiatives and highlight proposed activities, Councilmember Young hoped to identify ways that agencies might work in partnership with community organizations to meet these needs.

ECO-Action’s presentation focused on the next steps in implementing community projects identified though the completion of the Proctor Creek Health Survey. Since the survey data was collected and analyzed late last year, ECO-Action and Emory University, who together led the effort to complete the survey, have been meeting with interested Vine City and English Avenue community members to identify next steps to reduce the impact of flooding on public health. Community members identified six key goals for future action arising from the study findings. These areas were:

  1. Educate to promote lifestyle change (personal action)
  2. Facilitate home repair, maintenance and pest control (individual/landlord action)
  3. Provide smart relocation resources (personal action and support through a resource support system for relocation)
  4. Promote individual and community-wide green infrastructure as a method to prevent and reduce flooding and sewer overflows (personal and City action)
  5. Provide services and support for people with asthma (personal, physician and Fulton County Health Department action)
  6. Advocate for public policy promoting healthy homes (collective action geared toward City and Fulton County Health Departments)

ECO-Action’s Dr. Yomi presented six community-identified strategies that have been develop to achieve these goals. These strategies would enhance rental unit maintenance, senior home maintenance, pest control, assist individuals in smart relocation and provide additional community education about mold remediation, pest control and green infrastructure through a series of awareness workshops.

Other presentations made at the Lunch and Learn addressed:

Photo courtesy Na'Taki Osborne-Jelks

Photo courtesy Na’Taki Osborne-Jelks

  1. Capacity building for the Proctor Creek Stewardship Council presented by Darryl Haddock, a representative of the Council;
  2. Proctor Creek Citizen Science Programs presented by Na’Taki Osborne-Jelks of the West Atlanta Watershed Alliance;
  3. Advancing Community Greenway and Green Infrastructure Visioning presented by Stacy Funderburke with the Conservation Fund;
  4. Atlanta Urban Environmental Resources Center presented by Tony Torrence, of the Vine City Community Improvement Association.

As each of these initiatives were presented, Councilmember Young identified ongoing City efforts that might complement them and provided suggestions for additional funding and partnerships.

There’s a great deal happening near the Creek. Working together, non profits, City government and citizens can enhance both the vitality and the beauty of this resource in our midst while improving the lives and livelihood of those living nearest to it.

AUC and Community Together Promote Green Infrastructure at Community Forum 2

DSCF0424 800x600ECO-Action and its partners  (The Conservation Fund, Park Pride, CIA, WAWA and MAUWI), continue to engage the impacted under-served communities of English Avenue and Vine City in the Proctor Creek watershed through its Green Infrastructure for the AUC Initiative. The 2nd Green Infrastructure Community Forum held on November 14th at the Lindsay Street Baptist Church made a big step in advancing this effort.

Spelman student presenters at Community Forum 2

Spelman student presenters at Community Forum 2

Speakers first shared progress on the implementation of the Proctor Creek/North Avenue Study (which proposed green infrastructure improvements for the Vine City and English Avenue neighborhoods) and progress on ongoing efforts by AUC faculty, staff and students to develop green infrastructure conceptual plans.

Having this material as a foundation, participants created action plans that could guide their collective efforts to spearhead community led projects that would improve conditions in Proctor Creek neighborhoods. The action plan areas were:

  1. Developing a Proctor Creek Learning Exchange,
  2. Advancing Workforce Development for Green Infrastructure,
  3. Creating a Smart Relocation Resource Center and
  4. Advancing the Improvement of the Proctor Creek North Avenue Conceptual plans through joint student/community efforts.

All of these projects will  engage community and University participants in service projects that advance green infrastructure and address community environmental justice concerns. The plans that were created are a roadmap for future efforts. They also include a structure that engages AUC faculty, staff and students in these efforts. The action steps developed during the group’s deliberations will not only help to advance green infrastructure but also help to lift up communities out of unhealthy homes, create green spaces, and improve the quality of Proctor Creek.  You can read more about these action plans on the Green Infrastructure at the AUC page of the website.

The forum closed with tour of the nearby Lindsay Street Park led by Shannon Lee of the Conservation Fund.  This Vine City park which formally opened in October,  showcases a daylighted section of Proctor Creek and includes green infrastructure and native plantings.