Introducing Toxic Trespass – A new teaching tool

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Mobile, Alabama. For the past three months, an alliance of oil-spill survivors, academics, trained first responders, fence-line and frontline community residents, and community organizers in Houston, Mobile, and Coden, Alabama, have worked with ALERT, myself and Emily L. Harris, to develop a concept and a course.

Toxic Trespass is the first in a series of trainings using the train-the-trainer model. People in fence-line communities adjacent to industrialized areas, and frontline communities that are rapidly transformed by Oil-Chemical booms or disasters, are at risk of exposure to Oil-Chemical pollutants from daily industry operations to accidental spills. Yet the people in these communities are often the least informed about toxic pollutants, potential health impacts, and what can be done to minimize toxic trespass – pollutants getting into our bodies without our consent. This series is designed to minimize toxic trespass in at-risk communities. Trainings are interactive, educational, and experiential, accessible to high school to adult.

Toxic Trespass was created in, with, and by fence-line and Environmental Justice communities in Houston and the Mobile area. These two circumstances almost always occur simultaneously as the hefty costs of an oil-dependent nation – the traffic, noise, toxic dust, chronic pollution, poor air and water quality, and respiratory and other exposure-related illnesses to Oil-Chemical pollutants affect women’s pregnancies and babies’ ability to thrive – are disproportionately borne by Americans of low income and color.

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Manchester and Pleasantville are low income Hispanic and African American communities, respectively, along the heavily industrialized Houston Ship Channel. Africatown is a neighborhood of Mobile that was started by freed slaves along the once-pristine banks of the Mobile River. It is now the site of industrialized sprawl of fuel storage tank farms, coal barges, pipelines, and railroads, and is the target of even more such infrastructure for tar sands and fracking oil production. Coden, Alabama, is a small, unincorporated, coastal fishing community that was heavily impacted by the BP oil disaster.

ALERT’s collaboration with residents from these key communities was critical to creating a practical, community-based training on human health impacts of exposures to Oil-Chemical pollutants. Toxic Trespass will also be of use to people who understand that across the gulf of privilege and poverty, we share powerful stories and learn from each other. By working together to create a different story, we create a different future. The process determines the outcome. Participants become both change agents and the change we want to see in the world.

In this case, the change we are working toward is making healthy people and healthy communities part of our energy future. This process empowers everyone involved. And how does that feel? Eleven-year-old Jayden from Louisiana said it best: “I feel like… I can make a difference!