This past Friday, October 21, three members of the Research Translation Core–Dr. Elizabeth Shapiro-Garza, Bryan Luukinen, and Catherine Kastleman–traveled to Whitakers, North Carolina, to attend the 18th Annual Environmental Justice Summit. The theme of this summit was Environmental Justice: Moving Beyond Electoral Politics and Toxic Representation.
Dr. Shapiro-Garza (pictured at far right) is the Director of Community Engagement Activities for the Research Translation Core, Bryan Luukinen (middle) is the Senior Program Coordinator for Research Translation and Community Engagement, and Catherine Kastleman (far left) is a Program Coordinator for Community Engagement and Research Translation.
During the research poster session, the RTC team presented a poster detailing their ongoing work with North Carolina community gardeners to engage them around understanding and reducing or mitigating exposures to soil contaminants and pesticides at community garden sites across the state.
The summit featured research presentations from several scholars, including Nicholas School PhD student Danielle Purifoy, who is on the board for the North Carolina Environmental Justice Network. Danielle shared stories and insights from her dissertation work, entitled, “In Conditions of Fresh Water.” Dr. Megan Mullin, Purifoy’s advisor, along with another advisee, PhD student Katy Hansen, were also in attendance at the summit.
Academics from other institutions spoke about issues ranging from the impacts of coal ash contamination in low-income communities of color, lead poisoning prevention programs in North Carolina, antibiotic resistance and controlled animal feeding operations (CAFOs) in North Carolina, and contemporary dilemmas of environmental justice activism.
Another component of the Summit was a “Community Speak Out and Government Listening Panel,” during which grassroots environmental justice activists had a chance to voice their comments and concerns regarding environmental justice issues to members of the panel who represented different governmental divisions such as the regional US EPA office, the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services, the North Carolina Department of Natural and Cultural Resources, and the North Carolina General Assembly.
Many of the concerns raised during the listening session were focused on the aftermath of Hurricane Matthew and the complex and challenging environmental justice problems that it raised for many communities, some of which are now faced with the prospect of remediating toxic waste that was dumped into their communities by heavy flooding, or in some cases they are deciding whether to re-locate entirely to avoid future flooding incidents.
Over the course of the weekend, participants created an interactive, multimedia timeline to document the history of the Environmental Justice Movement in North Carolina. Participants brought their memories and tokens of the past to represent the growth and change in this field over the previous decades. In the evening, after a communal dinner, UNC Geography PhD student Pavithra Vasudevan presented a play based on her dissertation work involving oral histories of residents of West Badin, a town formerly owned and operated by the Alcoa aluminum company.
To learn more about the North Carolina Environmental Justice Network and read about the summit, visit https://ncejn.wordpress.com/ej-summit/
Catherine Kastleman is a Program Coordinator for Community Engagement and Research Translation in the Superfund Research Center’s Research Translation Core.