Environmental Technology

A step forward for environmental justice in Colorado

This week — July 16-24 — is recognized locally and nationally as Latino Conservation Week.

A tour of the state earlier this year exposed me to challenges faced by Latino families and individuals. Water quality is a major concern. Earlier this summer, the Environmental Protection Agency issued warnings about toxic PFAS. There are several chemicals known as PFAS (polyfluoroalkyl substances) that are already present in the bloodstreams of most Americans but are more prevalent in some areas, like Colorado Springs, Pueblo, and the Eastern Plains.

Additionally, rural counties also face challenges regarding recycling, concerns about oil and gas expansion, electrification, and clean energy access, as well as challenges regarding energy conservation and waste management.

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I have seen our state leaders touring the areas damaged by floods, fires and other natural disasters to assess the damage to our state. However, until now, Colorado’s leaders have not yet elevated the issue of toxic poisoning infiltrating our lifelines to the level of major concern, despite the damage the state has sustained. Our state Legislature and governor passed nine environmental justice bills tackling various key issues this year. One of the most impactful bills will regulate air toxics.

Toxic air pollutants emitted from facilities across the state pose a risk of cancer or serious health impacts such as difficulty breathing, nausea, birth defects or even death. The new law prioritizes people’s health by directing the state to set protective health-based air quality for each priority toxic air pollutant identified. It also prioritized monitoring air toxics in disproportionately affected communities.

Advancement in technology means advancement in accountability with the Colorado EnviroScreen. Colorado EnviroScreen, a new environmental health mapping tool, represents another positive step forward in helping communities disproportionately impacted by climate crisis-related and pollution hazards. It has been heartbreaking to witness how this industrialized area impacts neighbors, friends and family. This is a lived experience of people in my community, and according to our findings in the North Denver Environmental Justice Report and Data Audit, what we already feel and experience is confirmed.

A screenshot of the EnviroScreen map. (CDPHE)

With the launch of EnviroScreen, communities have an accountability tool that will open doors to resources and advocacy measures that did not previously exist. GreenLatinos will be at the forefront of teaching our community, both rural and urban, how to use the tool. We hope that we see positive and proactive changes in directly impacted communities.

The Environmental Justice Action Task Force was created to develop a statewide environmental justice strategy and plan for its implementation. The task force is discussing how to define disproportionately impacted communities that are applicable to many agencies in the future.

Last month the Environmental Justice Action Task Force released its first draft of recommendations on June 24. The task force is now asking for community reaction. A PDF and Word Document version of the recommendations are available here on our public google drive folder and can be downloaded. The task force is looking for public input on recommendations until July 24. As the co-chair and passionate advocate for environmental justice, I encourage everyone to review and make a comment. When we have opportunities to be heard, we must take action.

As we continue to engage Colorado’s Latino community in climate and environmental justice, I encourage my community to be reflective. Before we continue fighting for our families and improving their living conditions, we should take a moment to celebrate our accomplishments, as well as recognize that the Latinx community is bearing the brunt of the environmental impacts of industrialization and development; I would like to urge all communities to work together. If we can help protect the families that live in highly polluted areas, all Coloradans will benefit.

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