The Christian Science Monitor : 2019-02-11

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points of progress FROM PAGE 18 V assessment, and possible cleanup, before it can be repurposed. This requirement is often cost-prohibitive for developers. These state and locally managed properties may seem inconsequential compared with the 1,338 federal Superfund sites, which are typically more serious areas of contamination. But the sheer number of community brownfields and the residual blight they leave on communities make them a priority for places like Lawrence. “Brownfields are among us. Their im- As industry languished, the immigrant community once reliant on these mills and factories has continued to grow. More than three-quarters of the city’s population is Hispanic, and nearly 25 percent lives below the poverty level. The average unemployment rate in Lawrence over the past year was 6.5 percent, almost twice the statewide average. As deputy director of the Merrimack Valley Workforce Board, Susan Almono spends a lot of time thinking about the city’s many job seekers, what the industries of Lawrence’s future might be, “and how to bring them together to really help drive economic development.” One of the area’s ripest industries, Ms. Almono realized, was environmental reclamation of the city’s industrial relics, so she applied for a grant from the EPA. Founded originally as the brownfields job training program in 1998, the EPA’s environmental workforce development and job training grant program has since awarded almost $64 million through almost 300 grants to recruit unemployed, low-income, or minority locals for jobs in environmental remediation. Since it began, the program has trained more than 17,000 individuals nationwide and placed about three-quarters of them in full-time jobs. “The jobs training program through the brownfields program truly is a success story,” says Ms. Dunn at the EPA. “It often isn’t given headline attention, but it really is an example of EPA and local communities working together.” And despite imposing numerous funding cuts for other environmental programs, President Trump has continued support for the EPA’s Superfund and brownfield programs, calling them “absolutely essential.” While safety precautions have improved over the past decade, environmental remediation is still a dangerous job. Low-income minority communities in Massachusetts have disproportionately higher rates of lead poisoning, and job training programs for low-income minorities in remediation work is seen by some as an ex- different chemistry in these communities – one that is focused on economic vitality and the future, as opposed to the historic presence of pollution.” Across the country, hot spots for pollution are disproportionately located in lowincome communities such as Lawrence. For today’s young residents, often nonwhite and immigrant families, the legacy of pollution is a stark example of environmental injustice. Despite its size of only six square miles, STORY HINCKLEY/THE CHRISTIAN SCIENCE MONITOR Lesly Melendez, deputy director of Groundwork Lawrence, stands in front of Oxford Site Park, a former brownfield site. Potentially polluted brownfields are scattered across many cities. CLEANED UP: Lawrence still has almost 50 brownfield sites – relics of its former life as a mill town. Yet locals refuse to let caution tape define their future. Melendez, for one, is working to rid the city as much as possible of the symbols of decay she used to walk by. As deputy director of the local nonprofit Groundwork Lawrence, Melendez now helps convert brownfields into clean open spaces. “People forget that [brownfields] are here...,” says Melendez. “But there are plenty of us that live and work here that want to make sure this is a better place for our children, and our children’s children.” By the EPA’s estimation, the United States has more than 450,000 brownfield sites. Factories, dry cleaners, gas stations, and many other commonplace properties become brownfields in their afterlife, requiring state or local agencies to monitor them for leaked chemicals or buried pollutants. Though some brownfields have no serious contamination, others continue to pollute water, soil, or air for years. Either way, a brownfield designation requires a costly pact on humans is direct and tangible,” says Justin Hollander, an associate professor at Tufts University in Medford, Mass., who has written several books on brownfields. “They continue to represent a real threat to investment in neighborhoods.” Lawrence, for example, hardly resembles the prosperous industrial center it once was. Mill companies flocked to New England towns in the 19th century because of their proximity to water power. And Lawrence, located at the confluence of two rivers and a canal, became a hub for both industry and immigrants. But everything changed in the 1970s and 1980s when mills started to close or move. “It’s kind of like death by a thousand cuts,” says Christopher De Sousa, an urban planning professor at Ryerson University in Ontario. “All of this vacancy makes the neighborhood seem like it’s shrinking and decaying.” ‘[IN BROWNFIELD PROGRAMS] YOU REALLY SEE THE CONNECTION BETWEEN ENVIRONMENTAL JUSTICE AND OPPORTUNITY.’ – Alexandra Dunn, EPA administrator ample of injustice. But for locals in Lawrence, the work represents opportunity. “You could always say there are morality issues, but mentally, if you are cleaning an area where you have lived all your life, and it’s getting better, it’s a sense a pride,” says resident Ramon Quezada. “Lawrence is going in a new direction. And we’re helping with that.” – Story Hinckley / Staff writer 20 THE CHRISTIAN SCIENCE MONITOR WEEKLY FEBRUARY 11, 2019 | PRINTED AND DISTRIBUTED BY PRESSREADER PressReader.com +1 604 278 4604 ORIGINAL COPY . ORIGINAL COPY . 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