ECO-Action Works with the River Network to Address Urban Flooding Concerns

Jeremy Diner, Jason Dosier and Yomi Noibi making their joint presentation at the River Rally

Advocacy and organizing work hand in hand to make change in under-served communities. Organizing builds community power that focuses communities efforts toward their specific goals. Through advocacy, communities influence stakeholders so that those goals can be realized. Both of these are important capacities that are being strengthened though ECO-Action’s ongoing work with the River Network.
Environmental Community  Action (ECO-Action) and the West Atlanta Watershed Alliance (WAWA) are part of a cohort of non profit organizations participating in the River Network’s Urban Flooding & Equity for Vulnerable Communities Collaborative.  This Collaborative has been convened to enhance the ability of local watershed and community-based organizations to catalyze the type of change that is needed to address our urban water challenges, particularly those related to urban flooding and equity.  The program is funded jointly by Groundwork USA and The Kresge Foundation. The River Network believes that citizen-led community and watershed organizations working in urban areas are uniquely positioned to influence their community’s relationship to water and work with water authorities, utilities and local decision-makers to address these issues.

“Conceptual plans are good, but we have to create public/private partnerships in order to advance the work they describe.” Workshop Attendee
In May, a twelve-person delegation which included Atlanta leaders from WAWA, ECO-Action American Rivers, the City of Atlanta Department of Watershed Management, the Conservation Fund and the Atlanta Watershed Learning Network attended the River’s Network’s River Rally held in Grand Rapids Michigan.  At the event, Dr. Yomi, Jeremy Diner of American Rivers and Jason Dozier, a member of the Atlanta Watershed Leaning Network from the Peoplestown neighborhood, shared some recent Atlanta successes with other Rally participants working to address urban water challenges. Using the Turner Field Stadium development opportunities as a case study, their workshop, “Equitable Urban Planning For Resilient Communities,” sought to demonstrate the value of infusing concepts of equity and including community-based organizations in collaborations engaged in storm water planning. Participants found their session useful, informative, enjoyable, and motivating.

Dr. Na’Taki Osborne Jelks, Darryl Haddock; Juanita Wallace and Donna Stephens also made a presentation on the topic, “Leveraging Local Knowledge For Community Change.”

Other River Network  training webinars topics have included Strengthening Advocacy in Community OrganizingThe What, Why, and How of Relevancy, Equity, Inclusion, and Diversity and Grappling with Unconscious Bias for More Inclusive Water Protection & Restoration.

Collaborative training materials have been very valuable, helping ECO-Action to better make its case as it frames equity as a precursor to environmental justice. Additionally, the Network has a host of materials in the areas of equity, diversity, community engagement and advocacy some of which ECO-Action has shared with the participants in the Watershed Learning Network.  The collaborative also offers ECO-Action opportunities to learn from and connect with other communities and community groups from across the country and for them to also learn and connect with ECO-Action. It is a learning exchange for all.

River Rally panel discussion

At the River Rally, one of the participants in ECO-Action’s Workshop remarked “Conceptual plans are good, but we have to create public/private partnerships in order to advance the work they describe.” Through work with the River Network, ECO-Action is strengthening its ability to engage with community members and stakeholders to build broad public and private support of green infrastructure and other stormwater management projects both in Atlanta and across the state of Georgia.

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Stewardship Advocacy Training Unites Proctor and Intrenchment Creek

Youth participants in the Atlanta Watershed Learning Network along with their instructors

Community members who have learned to advocate for their own communities make the best mentors for those who are just beginning to get their feet wet. Since late April, Proctor Creek Stewards have been working and learning together with Intrenchment Creek Green Infrastructure Advocates to develop strategies to address flooding issues in and protect both the Proctor and Intrenchment Creek watersheds. ECO-Action, in collaboration with WAWA,  The Conservation Fund, City of Atlanta Department of Watershed Management and the support of American Rivers has engaged roughly 20 participants in each of four workshop sessions, developing their understanding about these watersheds and learning about green stormwater infrastructure, climate change and environmental justice issues related to flooding in these communities.

Participants and trainer brainstorming to identify potential projects.

The program deliberately mobilizes residents from both the Proctor Creek  and Intrenchment Creek watersheds, partnering individuals who have some experience in green infrastructure advocacy with those who are new to it. Participants are now preparing action projects around the topics of 1) communications strategies that will engage additional residents and influence and elected officials and stakeholders for green infrastructure; 2) green infrastructure project development to address flooding issues; 3) water quality monitoring and accountability through citizen science; and 4) education for efficient water use and stormwater retention in homes and schools. Participants’ projects will be presented at the closing session to be held on August 5th at 11 am. The session will be held at the Georgia Hill Neighborhood Center, 250 Georgia Avenue, Atlanta Georgia 30312.

This training is an integral activity of the Atlanta Watershed Learning Network.  This network enhances community outreach and engagement for the development and use of parks and the application of green infrastructure to address stormwater issues. By building community capacity to support the use of green stormwater infrastructure, Integrated Stormwater Management, and other sustainable measures, ECO-Action is building community capability to address flooding issues equitably while also protecting the Intrenchment and Proctor Creek watersheds.

For additional information about the Atlanta Watershed Learning Network, please contact Dr. Yomi at (678) 576-6715 or email asnoibi@gmail.com.

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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.

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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