Compounded Issues for a Community

Have you ever worked with the type of person who is really good at signing you up for extra work?

Well, I work with one such co-worker… and NO it is not Joanna Gangi, LOL. My co-worker, who will remain nameless, signed me up to do a community presentation. I wasn’t sure what to expect at first but off I went to South Park, part of our Duwamish Valley Focus community. What followed was one of the most enriching and eye opening experiences I have had during my time on the Puget Sound Clean Air Agency.

The South Park Information and Resource Center (SPIRC) invited the Agency to present as part of their Healthy Communities project. The two hour meeting covered the issue of toxics in the home. The Environmental Coalition of South Seattle (ECOSS), an environmental nonprofit consultancy presented first. Their presentation was centered on limiting the use of toxic products in the home, cleaning with green products, and best practices around composting, recycling and trash sorting.

My presentation was about the idea of using retrofitted fan/air filters that the Agency has been promoting as a way to reduce the amount of dust, black mold spores, and PM 2.5 that can be present inside of a home. As we know dust and black mold spores can be irritants to people already struggling with asthma and other respiratory illnesses.

Both ECOSS and the Agency’s advice for maintaining a healthy home were standard; don’t mix cleaning products at home, don’t use toxic products such as insecticide or rat poison, use green cleaning products, if there is black mold tell your landlord to take care of it, and the list goes on.

The audience reactions and follow up questions were sobering. “How can we kill the vermin crawling in our apartments if we don’t use insecticide?” “How can we get rid of the rats if we don’t put poison around the house?” “We have asked our landlord to clean the black mold, and he threatened us with eviction, calling immigration, and raising our rent (take your pick of any of these retaliatory measures), what can we do?”

In our work we often look at the challenges faced by communities from a single perspective, is this an outside air problem? Is this what the mandate narrowly defines what we should be working on? Yet, the life and well being of the people we serve is not a single issue. The issue of pollution in the Duwamish River gets compounded by the issues of dust, odor, and pollution in the air that the community breathes. All of this is then compounded by the vermin, dust and black mold present inside the homes of many residents who in turn are oppressed by the fear of economic retaliation, eviction, or deportation. 

As an Agency we can choose to look at the problems we face through a narrow single focus or we can understand that we are part of a larger network of institutions that can exert their considerable power to weight the balance in favor of the disproportionately impacted members of our community.

Also, thanks nameless co-worker for the opportunity to be part of this presentation.

By Julio Sanchez, Puget Sound Clean Air Agency Community Engagement Associate