Environmental Injustice Is Making Me Sick

BY ON October 2, 2012

Woman looking for seafood at the grocery store

A few weeks ago, three of my cousins and I drove from Georgia to Virginia to attend the funeral of one my cousins. We decided to ride together in order to save money on gas and to help each other with the nine hour drive. As we pulled into the Tidewater area of Virginia, we started to talk about our childhood memories. And then someone said, “I can’t wait to eat some crabs.” And then I chimed in: “Oh my gosh, it would be so good if we could get some over the next two days that we are here.”

We drove directly to the wake where our respective parents were already there in attendance. We stayed for a while, and then we each left with our respective parents and promised to meet up again after the funeral for the ride home the next day. As my mom and I were driving to her house, she said: “Are you hungry because your father has a bushel of crabs waiting for us at the house.” Jackpot!!

We arrived at my parents home where my dad, sister, nieces and a bushel of crabs awaited. I rolled up my sleeves (figuratively, as it is the summer and too hot for sleeves), melted some butter, and proceeded to eat blue crabs until I was literally sick. It was like that signal that my stomach sends to my brain that says you are full was overridden, and I ate until I could not crack another shell open. We all did.

Even though I ate until I was sick, I was happy for the chance to eat crabs with the family and to catch up on old times. This is a custom that my family, like many other African American families take part in. We like to go fishing or crabbing together as a bonding experience, and then we like to cook the seafood and eat it together.

Last Thursday, I read an article on the Environmental Health News site that stated warnings or advisories about contaminated fish fail to reach the most at risk people, which are minority communities and low-income populations. And that same sick feeling came over me again; Was what I ate contaminated?

The article explains that the government’s attempts to communicate the risks of contaminated fish to at risk populations is “inadequate.”

“We believe that fish consumption is an environmental justice issue that stems from inadequate risk communication through fish consumption advisories,” ~ Michelle Martinez and Alexandria Teague of the University of Michigan’s School of Natural Resources and the Environment in a 2008 study.”

The warnings are not getting to the at risk populations for a variety of reasons such as: language barriers, access to the warnings that are on the Internet, and the warnings are just plain difficult to understand.

So I did a search for fish consumption advisories on the Internet…something that my father has never done and will never do. I read about the difference between fish consumption restrictions and advisories, I read about PCB and mercury contamination and the affects of eating fish that have those contaminants, and I read about how many meals you are allowed to eat for each type of species listed in the advisory. Then I was able to click and drill down to see exactly which advisories applied to my parent’s neck of the woods. And while blue crabs were not on the list, plenty of other fish were.

And yes, even for a person that spends most of her day on the computer, I thought the advisories were pretty complicated. And I could not imagine my father or any of his older brothers actually searching for those advisories.

Many states are trying to translate advisories into other languages in an attempt to spread the message. But much more needs to be done.

Which is where we come in. We need to warn our family and friends about the importance of checking for advisories before they catch or eat fish. We need to continue to support organizations and government agencies that will hold states accountable for revising the way that advisories are communicated. Finally, we need to get involved with efforts to ensure that your local representatives are supporting legislation that supports the EPA and the Clean Air Act because what goes up into our air ends up in our water, gets ingested by fish, and ends up in our children’s bodies.


TOPICS: African-American Community, Clean Air Rules and Regulations, Food, Georgia, Mercury Poisoning, Pollution, Social Justice, Virginia