The Back Story
In 2019, DWEJ partnered with LINC UP, a Grand Rapids non-profit organization, to create “The Neighborhood Environmental Action Report: Health, Environment and Race in Grand Rapids”. The report discusses environmental injustices in Grand Rapids by drawing attention to the ways environmental conditions in the city intensify problems for residents in vulnerable and impacted neighborhoods.
LINC UP had historically focused on neighborhood revitalization in Grand Rapids before an EPA Superfund site was established across the street from their offices. Jeremee DeRoo, Executive Director of LINC UP, explains in his forward to the report:
“The signage and fencing came about due to an evacuation by the Kent County Health Department of two properties because a Michigan Department of Environmental Quality investigation had shown the indoor air in the buildings was 10 times above the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) safety limits of a known carcinogen. EPA found traces of the pollutants that entered the building as a result of off-gassing from chemicals. The chemicals were left behind from a dry cleaning facility that had closed more than two decades earlier”.
This experience drove home the idea that their work included the environment and that “the people of neighborhoods…need to have safe and clean air, water, and soil if they are going to live healthy and full lives.”
LINC UP saw that there was no single agenda in the City of Grand Rapids to address these problems or create solutions. They also saw the same pattern of environmental injustice where African American, Hispanic and other communities of color, or low-income communities, bear much of the burden caused by environmental pollution. LINC UP had connected the dots and now understood that their work in revitalizing neighborhoods had to be about more than brick and mortar, attracting new restaurants, shops, residents, and superficial aesthetics. The land, water and air that made up the environment of these neighborhoods had a direct impact on why they were in need of repair in the first place, and why the people who lived in the neighborhoods suffered health issues at rates higher than in other parts of the city. They also realized how the history of these neighborhoods led them to such a state of environmental disarray.
For example, LINC UP saw the fundamental issues that created neighborhoods like the 49507 zip code—an area with the highest concentrations of poverty in the city and county, along with the highest rates of asthma, lead poisoning and poor birth outcomes.
Reaching Across Michigan for a Partner
LINC UP wanted to form a neighborhood environmental action initiative that would bring people together, increase knowledge, and foster understanding around equity and environmental justice, but they lacked the experience to achieve their goals. As they were new “members” of the environmental justice network, they searched for an experienced organization to lend a hand. Following a recommendation, they reached out to DWEJ to fill that role. Our 25 years of experience gave us the accumulated knowledge, experience, resources, writing and publishing history, and contacts LINC UP would need to move forward on the much needed report for the Grand Rapids community.
Through our joint efforts, as well as the efforts of numerous other contributors, LINC UP released the Grand Rapids Neighborhood Environmental Action Report in 2019. The report summarizes the state of environmental issues and environmental justice in Grand Rapids, presenting research and recommendations for action, or “next steps” for six identified issues:
- Vapor Intrusion
- Lead Poisoning
- Food Justice
- Green Space
- Air Quality
- Climate Change
We also helped LINC UP take the extra step and examine how sustainability and environmental justice are connected when discussing the history and impact of these issues, as well as how they can best be addressed to create equitable solutions.