Across the U.S., hazardous waste sites, landfills, incinerators, and other hazardous facilities are disproportionately located in poor and minority communities. Contaminated tells the stories of three poor communities living in hazardous or degraded environments and the fights and negative health effects that arise.
We wanted to focus on environmental justice as a class and public health issue. We also wanted to make sure that we represented communities from across the US, which is why we choose a poor, black community in the Black Belt of Alabama, a poor, white community in the center of Appalachia, and a poor, Latino community in Southern California. Each episode focuses on a community in crisis, suffering from poor air quality, toxic drinking water, or the legacy of PCB contamination.
We also wanted to dive deep and uncover the consequences of living in a toxic zone and how long-term exposure to contaminants affect health? In each community, we found that people were suffering from a variety of health issues from cancer, to asthma, to neurological disorders.
Our primary objective is policy change. In each story, local politicians or federal and/or state environmental agencies have the ability to do something. In the cases we observed, most have turned a blind eye. We're hoping that our campaign will raise awareness and put pressure on public officials to enact change.
In an effort to give voice to communities that often feel voiceless, we set out explore communities in extremely vulnerable situations. All of the areas showcased in Contaminated are dealing with a long legacy of contamination and in many ways feel helpless.
In Uniontown, Alabama Esther Calhoun has suffered from neuropathy since toxic coal ash arrived at the Arrowhead Landfill several years ago. Her neurologist said that it may be caused by lead, and it is not going to get better. Uniontown is a small, predominantly poor, black community in the Black Belt of Alabama. In 2009, Arrowhead received millions of tons of coal ash that was part of the Tennessee Valley Authority's spill, the largest industrial spill in United States history. Runoff from the landfill has contaminated groundwater and preliminary tests of water around the landfill found elevated levels of heavy metals associated with coal ash and linked to an array of health problems. The town is also dealing with a terrible wastewater treatment situation and a horrendous odor from a nearby cheese plant. To make matters worse, the residents feel that city and state officials have turned a blind eye. With this episode, we wanted to explore what happens when you've been fighting for clean air and water for years and the local, state, and federal government turn the other way?
In Fayette County, West Virginia Susie Jenkins is one of 86 residents of Minden, West Virginia that have either gotten or died from cancer in the last two years. The town's population is 250. Minden is home to a superfund site that used to store PCBs, known carcinogens. PCB's were banned by the EPA in 1979, but it stays in the environment and has seeped into surrounding soil. PCB's are absorbed through the skin and accumulates in fat. The EPA has tried to clean the site up but failed. Now, nearly 40 years later, residents are still worried. And that's not the only thing they're worried about. A nearby injection well that disposes of fracking waste is contaminating local creeks. With this episode, we wanted to know: will the whole community die of cancer before the government does something to fix the situation?
In Oxnard, California Lily Bello has suffered from asthma since childhood. Oxnard is a low-income, predominantly Latino, farm-working and agricultural processing community on the Central Coast of California. Home to 3 power plants, a superfund toxic waste site, landfills and amongst the highest levels of agricultural pesticide exposure in California, it's also in the 90th percentile for asthma rates in California. NRG, a power company, has proposed to build a new, more efficient power plant, but California already has more than enough energy. We wanted to ask, why build another power plant in an already polluted place?
Contaminated has been distributed across several of our platforms–YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, and our website, Fusion.net in English and eventually on Univision in Spanish. The series has been immensely popular, generating over 2 million views and thousands of shares. We also had notable social shares from the Center for Health, Environment and Justice, the Sierra Club, and Women for Justice generating more engagement and dialogue across a larger network of social platforms. Most importantly, the videos have been spread throughout the communities that are affected by these issues, sparking outrage, anger, and calls for help.
"This situation is appalling! 😤😡😢 My heart goes out to you! Please fight to right this wrong. Don't give up. Elect political officials who will take up your cause and be held accountable. Inform the media! Prosecute the offenders! Organize protests! Be strong 💪! I wish all of you only the best!"
"Shameful! There is no limits to the greed of a few in our country. We may never be great again if we don't start taking care of the people and saying no to the big corporations and corrupt politicians. We are falling further and further down on the best place to live. Very sad!"
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