InvestigateWest’s Carol Smith writes in the Seattle Post-Intelligencer and InvestigateWest.org that the focus on the environmental disaster of Seattle’s industrial Duwamish River obscures another, equally potent, long-simmering health crisis. For the folks who live near the Superfund site, pollutants from the river are just one of many health risks. Access to groceries and health care is limited, and obesity and poverty rates are higher than surrounding neighborhoods while expected lifespans are years shorter. As Superfund recommendations begin to take shape, the health side of the cleanup is bubbling to the forefront.
While there’s been exhaustive analysis of the environmental impact of historical polluters on the river and the health of creatures that live in it, as well as theoretical risk assessments of individual pollutants on human health, relatively little attention has been paid to the actual health status of residents living within the 32-square-mile Superfund site. Nor has there been consideration of the cumulative impact of the many health hazards they face.
The big question, Smith writes, is “Should the area be held to a higher cleanup threshold because the people living in its midst are already more vulnerable to the health risks posed by the toxic chemicals in their environment? ”
The answer might lie in the area’s status as an “environmental justice neighborhood,” which means it is “subject to the 1994 executive order by President Clinton that directed federal agencies to address inequities in communities where low-income or minority communities were experiencing health disparities caused by their environment.”