“Stockton was named an All-America City four times in the last eighteen years. I think it has the potential to become an All-World City next year.” — one of the author’s home schooled youngsters
A Brownfields site is any land in the United States that has been contaminated by hazardous waste and identified by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) as a candidate for cleanup because it poses a risk to human health and/or the environment. Real property, expansion, or reuse of land may be complicated by the presence or potential presence of a hazardous substance pollutant, or contaminant.
In Stockton, California. where I’m planning to relocate shortly, there are 21 such sites. Many municipalities across the U.S. have many more brownfields*, but in Stockton there are two sites which present a particular problem. If the locations of those candidates for cleanup are identified, informed citizens can decide whether or not to move into a given area, or determine that they do not want to deal with the health risks associated with living around, playing around, working around, studying around… or doing anything near the contaminated areas. With the two referenced sites, however, that’s impossible. For #20 and #21 — identified only by “north Shore” — are troubling realms which for some reason have addresses “Not Reported.”
*And much greater challenges.
The EPA — with its Mafia-like reputation spotlighted by E.G. Vallianatos in Poison Spring — is supposed to be overseeing public health matters… but is clearly not. Not only with regard to the brownfields in Stockton, but respecting the hazardous non-archived super fund sites which are located in the area. And more… which I cannot delve into here.
Let me be clear, though. If these issues were restricted to Stockton, there wouldn’t be the kind of calamitous concern that’s keeping me from sleeping a good sleep each night. But because the problem is widespread and proliferating, it’s mandatory that all concerned citizens move in fresh solidarity to address these matters anew. Activists have been distracted from what’s really happening by political arguments related to who is heading the EPA, when it’s the organization itself which is fundamentally problematic. And not for the reasons that are given by those who have wanted to do away with it. Financial waste is one thing, whereas the intentional wasting away the lives of ill-informed citizens is quite another.
I have worked with hospices and individuals struck by various diseases for quite some time, and I’ve learned that many people do not want to know if they have cancer or some other horrible medical matter to deal with in emergency fashion. Lots of decent folks simply succumb to Ostrich Syndrome, sticking their heads in the sand voluntarily to avoid the unpleasantness and pure shock of bad news. However, when it comes to public health issues we deserve to know what’s going on, and are obliged to do something about the challenges which exist.
The good news is that I see an opportunity in Stockton. A window of opportunity exists whereby I could — with others — not only address the missing addresses and discuss the viable options for dealing with the Active NPL and Active non-NPL sites, but – simultaneously, and effortlessly, I might add — send positive ripples nationwide (and even worldwide), demonstrating how engaged local citizens can make a difference.
As an educator of half-a-century, I’m particularly interested in stirring up the creative juices of youngsters and their loved ones to embrace civic engagement. There is a correlation to be drawn between all sorts of youth-related issues and exposure to hazardous waste, including matters not usually associated with pollution, such as gang violence, the decline of domestic life, and poor performance in schools. Details upon request, but Stockton — courtesy of its various educational institutions — can be the Poster Municipality for dealing effectively with our national collective crises.
I’d be very happy to be part of anything like that, but I certainly wouldn’t mind someone beating me to it in some other realm. For — ultimately — we are all going to have to take that High Environmental Road. The one that demands full disclosure and an unprecedented acceptance of what our personal roles happen to be regarding society’s horrid momentum.
I have faith in the good people of Stockton, and I’ll keep you posted on how things unfold, if you like.
Richard Martin Oxman, founding member of the Oxman Collective, can be reached at [email protected].