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Understanding Unnatural Causes

The Asian Pacific Environmental Network is honored to be featured in the PBS series Unnatural Causes, a documentary about the impact of race and socio-economic factors on health disparities. In the segment “Place Matters,” an APEN member and organizer describe their experiences of living in Richmond, California, one of the most toxic places in the country with more than 350 toxic facilities. The series will air in the Bay Area on KQED starting Thursday, March 27th at 10pm. Watch the segment featuring APEN on Thursday, April 10th at 10pm.

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Read on to deepen your knowledge of environmental and health inequities. Then join us, along with people like you around the country, to stop a refinery expansion that can cost the health and lives of Richmond residents.

Environmental Justice: Addressing Health Disparities

The film reports that poor segregated neighborhoods like the ones in Richmond are less likely to have parks and more likely to contain polluting industries, hazardous waste facilities, and other toxic facilities than affluent neighborhoods. These neighborhoods are direct result of systematic neglect, disinvestment, and institutionalized racism and are more than likely to create communities who have health problems such as high rates of asthma and obesity.

This conclusion supports what environmental justice organizations like APEN have been asserting for more than 20 years: people and communities of color bear a disproportionate amount of environmental burdens.

APEN and the environmental justice movement envision a world where “all people have a right to a clean and healthy environment to live, work, play, and thrive.” From closing down waste facilities in New Orleans, to demanding cleaner and more accessible transit in Boston, to providing affordable housing in Oakland, environmental justice communities work on a wide ranging of issues to address environmental inequities.

Get our introductory curriculum on environmental justice. Think you already know what EJ is? Click here to quiz yourself.

Organizing is the Key to a Healthy Community

Our Laotian community in Richmond knows well the effect of disinvestment and neglect in a neighborhood, as Torm Normpraseurt, LOP's lead organizer, has shown in this toxic tour of Richmond. That is why we organize to come together and demand that a community shouldn’t be treated differently because of its class, race, or socioeconomic status. Together with our allies, we are working to change policies to create better health and environments for all of us to live, learn, work, play, and thrive.

Learn more about the Laotian Organizing Project. Gwai Boonkeut, whose story was featured prominently in the segment, is a member of LOP. Since the making of the film, Gwai's health has improved but his heart has not fully recovered. Gwai continues to work two jobs. He hopes that those who have seen the film will be more aware of issues in their neighborhoods and engage in those issues to change them.

Stop the Refinery Expansion and Improve Our Health

In addition to a lack of parks and an excess of fast food chains, Richmond residents also live with a unique and significant source that contributes heavily to damaging our health: the petrochemical industry. According to data from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, refineries are the top polluters in the Bay Area. In Richmond, the top polluter is the Chevron refinery releasing an estimated 29 billion pounds of toxic air and water pollutants each year. For more information and background on Chevron, click here.

Even though there is a clear connection between the Chevron refinery and harm to our health, Chevron is planning to expand to refine even dirtier oil! The expansion will intensify health and safety impacts for workers and the community in Richmond.

Take action now to protect our community’s health.

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Get Connected!

Our community will continue to organize to gain control of our lives. APEN is envisioning a world that’s more just, sustainable, and healthy. This year, our staff, immigrant and refugee community members will develop a vision for Richmond for us all to strive toward.

For more information about this vision, click here. Sign up to receive more APEN updates.

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In 1999, a major accident at the Chevron oil refinery hospitalized thousands of people. The County’s English only emergency telephone system made a bad situation even worse. After this accident, APEN members organized to win the nation’s first emergency warning system that will notify nearby residents in their own native language. For more information on LOP’s campaign for a safe and accessible warning during industrial accidents, click here.