Sometimes I feel part of the reason why Latinos don’t seem to be as engaged in many important issues, like air pollution, might have a lot to do with the language divide. As my Moms Clean Air Force colleague, Elisa Batista points out, actual poll results suggest Latinos do care about the environment:
“Latinos more than any other demographic group in the country care about environmental issues because we are most likely to toil in jobs with toxic chemicals and live in areas with poor air and water quality.“
Many of us speak both English and Spanish, and feel totally comfortable in both. But, that is not the case for all Latinos. In fact, I know many people who I’d consider “bilingual,” but who feel much more comfortable speaking Spanish – especially when it comes to technical stuff, or information that is difficult to comprehend. Not to mention those Latinos who only recently arrived in the U.S. and are still in the process of learning English.
Those without access to the Internet find information is limited. In fact, a recent NPR story dealt with this very subject, showing that Latinos who have computers and other digital devices, don’t really use them to their full potential. This seems to be because they are limited to what they can find in the language they understand best: Spanish.
That’s why I was happy to hear that the Environmental Protection Agency has just launched a Spanish version of a program called, My Right to Know. My RTK is a series of maps that makes it easy to find information about chemicals that people may be exposed to daily. Right-to-know laws provide information about possible chemical exposures.
According to a press release from the EPA, the application, which is usable on smart phones and desktop computers, allows users to:
“…find out about the potential health effects associated with the chemicals and learn whether a particular facility is in compliance with major environmental laws…” ~
I tried the Spanish app and was pretty surprised by the amount of information it provided, including where the chemicals are being released into: air, water or land. The app uses an interface which includes the facilities’ locations, relative size, chemical releases and their possible health effects, and a record of compliance with U.S. environmental laws.
Luckily, when I put in my home zip code, I couldn’t find anything in the area. Unfortunately, that was not the case when I put in the zip code of my place of employment. My RTK found several facilities that report to the Toxics Release Inventory, a program that requires facilities in certain industry sectors to report annually on releases, disposal and other waste management activities related to over 650 toxic chemicals – including the deadly mercury. This powerful neurotoxin can harm fetuses and the developing brains of young children. In fact, mercury pollution affects more than 400,000 newborns every year.
I believe knowledge is power. Hopefully, regardless of the language we speak, having access to critical information such as the toxic chemicals that are released in our communities, will allow more of us to be informed and demand for changes to be made! Another way to do that is to join the Moms Clean Air Force and help all of us speak up for what is one of our most basic rights: clean air.