There will be a hearing this Wednesday, March 26, from 4:00 to 5:00 pm in Room 135 of the State House, on a bi-partisan bill to stop building schools on contaminated land in Rhode Island. The bill is controversial (as evidenced in this post by Alex Moore on RIFuture.org and the ensuing discussion) in that Woonsocket is currently in the process of building a new middle school on a remediated site, and members of the community there want to maintain control over their project and move forward. It is unclear how this issue will be dealt with — some have suggested that strategically, it might make sense to make an exception to the bill for Woonsocket’s project. Others have questioned whether this would be allowing another school to be built on a site which has contamination issues with long-term health hazards.
In this post, Alex fleshes out the history of environmental justice and the way in which this bill will help move us toward better environmental safety for our schools:
Some legislators at the State House have thankfully decided to put environmental justice on this year’s agenda by putting in a bi-partisan bill to stop building schools on contaminated land (H-7577). Please take one minute to thank these legislators and ask other decision makers to support this important bill by clicking here.
Why do schools, especially in low-income districts & communities of color, continue to get built on contaminated land?
–They are in desperate need of new schools.
–They are stuck with a lot of contaminated land – usually due to factories shutting down – that developers won’t touch.
–They think it’s cost effective because they can foot most clean up and construction costs to the state.
–They don’t take expensive monitoring and long-term maintenance costs into account; schools built on contaminated land in Providence are already exhibiting expensive problems (faulty air quality equipment, broken foundations, etc.) shortly after being constructed – not only are these problems costly in financial terms, but they put kids and teachers at risk of health problems.
–They don’t take into account that scientific standards for “safe” levels of toxins are changing fast; today’s standards may no longer be applicable in a few years.
–They sell communities on the idea of a wonderful new school, but usually keep parents and kids in the dark about potential hazards and use unfair, expedited review processes to rush jobs through. When the community learns the truth, it’s usually too late.
–More lucrative & desirable land is sold to developers who tend to build condos or offices on it; kids get stuck going to schools on former dumps and toxic waste sites.
This is nothing new – it has been going on for over 3 decades in cities and states across the country.
The question is, how much longer are we knowingly going to allow this shameful practice to keep happening?
As Dr. King said:
â€œOur lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.â€?
If you can’t attend the hearing but still want to encourage your legislators to support this bill, you can participate by clicking here.